President Joe Biden has had a busy first week, signing a couple dozen executive orders, but he was able to make some time to mull who’s on the $20 bill.
Biden is working to replace the bill’s portrait of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, with Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist and political activist who helped run the Underground Railroad that helped slaves get to free states.
The Obama administration first announced a move to replace Jackson in 2016 with a plan to unveil the new bills in 2020, but during the 2016 presidential campaign, former President Donald Trump criticized the plan to replace his political hero on the bill (for his four years in office, Trump had a portrait of Jackson on the Oval Office wall, which has since been removed).
“Andrew Jackson had a great history,” Trump said in 2016, “and I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill.” He also said putting Tubman on the bill was “pure political correctness.”
Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, on Monday said, “I was here when we announced that, and it was very exciting, but it hasn’t moved forward yet, which we would have been surprised to learn at the time.”
“The Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new $20 notes,” she said. “It is important that our notes, our money, reflect the history and diversity of our country and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that and we are exploring ways to speed up that effort.”
In 2019, then-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the Tubman bills wouldn’t come out until 2026 at the earliest.
That same year, at a congressional hearing on the redesign, Democrats criticized Trump’s alleged delay in honoring Tubman. “We not only honor her because of her gender, we not only honor her because of the color of her skin. We honor her for her character, her character to save and preserve and uphold America’s values,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
But last year, Mnuchin said the Trump administration didn’t delay the new bill, saying the new currency would require the development of anti-counterfeiting technology and a new print process. “I just want to clarify that we have not changed any of this and this is something in the distant future,” Mnuchin said, calling reports that he had delayed it a “myth.”
Twenty-dollar bill going from Andrew Jackson to Harriet Tubman — one symbol of difference between Trump and Biden. Proposed new design below: pic.twitter.com/e6xaukiSJJ
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) January 25, 2021
Tubman, a former slave who died in 1913, escaped from slavery and became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, taking part in 13 rescue missions that freed 70 slaves in Maryland, according to the National Park Service.
The effort to replace Jackson with Tubman became a cause célèbre. “As a country, it is about time we put our money where our mouth is in the fight to support women,” said a letter in support of the move, which was signed by Ellen DeGeneres, Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem, and others.
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