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Tubman on the Twenty?

Treasury secretary avoids discussing changes to the $20 bill

MARTIN CRUTSINGER | 9/11/2017, 9:38 a.m.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is raising speculation that Harriet Tubman’s future on the $20 bill could be in jeopardy.
Right photo: Underground Railroad hero Harriet Tubman. Left photo: Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States from 1829 to 1837. Swann Auction Galleries & White House

WASHINGTON (AP) – Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is raising speculation that Harriet Tubman’s future on the $20 bill could be in jeopardy.

Mnuchin avoided a direct answer during a CNBC interview on Thursday when asked whether he supported the decision made by the Obama administration to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Tubman, the 19th century African American abolitionist who was a leader in the Underground Railroad.

“People have been on the bills for a long period of time,” he said. “This is something we’ll consider. Right now, we have a lot more important issues to focus on.”

During last year’s campaign, Donald Trump praised Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, for his “history of tremendous success” and said the decision to replace his portrait with that of Tubman was “pure political correctness.”

Trump suggested during the campaign that one possibility would be to put Tubman on another bill and leave Jackson on the $20. He and Ben Carson, currently secretary of Housing and Urban Development, had both suggested during the GOP primaries that Tubman might go on the $2 bill instead.

Then-Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced last year that he had decided to place Tubman on the $20 bill as part of a make-over of the nation’s currency to improve security features on the bills. The new currency bearing Tubman’s portrait was scheduled to be unveiled in 2020, the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

Lew arrived at the decision to displace Jackson on the $20 bill after generating a loud outcry with an initial proposal to put a woman on the $10 bill replacing Alexander Hamilton.

“The number one issue why we change the currency is to stop counterfeiting. So the issues of why we change it will be primarily related to what we need to do for security purposes,” Mnuchin said in the CNBC interview.

Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both Maryland Democrats, wrote a letter to Mnuchin on Thursday urging him not to abandon plans to place Tubman, who was born in Maryland as a slave, on the $20 bill.

“Those we honor on currency make a statement about our nation and our values,” the senators wrote.

At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, “I’m not aware of any policy change. I’d certainly have to check into that.”

Mnuchin’s comments on taxes came one day after Trump launched the administration’s fall push to overhaul the nation’s tax system with a speech in Springfield, Missouri. There he said the plan, details of which have yet to be revealed, would unlock strong economic growth, reduce the tax burden of the middle-class and encourage corporations to keep jobs in America.

Mnuchin rejected the idea that the administration has yet to settle on the details of the tax plan.

“We are on track to get this done by the end of the year,” he said. “So you’re going to see the detail come out (in September.) It’s going to go through a committee process. We expect the House and Senate will get this to the president to sign this year and we couldn’t be more excited about the progress we’ve made.”