Abolitionist Harriet Tubman was supposed to make a number of firsts when her image was scheduled to begin being used on the $20 note in 2020. Tubman, a former slave and leader of the Underground Railroad, was set to replace former President Andrew Jackson on the note, as part of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. On Wednesday, however, the Trump administration announced the new bill—the first honoring a black woman—would not be going into circulation as planned. In fact, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday, a Tubman $20 would have to wait until at least 2026, and likely 2028, before it goes in circulation, well after a Trump presidency, if democracy goes as planned.
Why the delay? “Mr. Mnuchin, concerned that the president might create an uproar by canceling the new bill altogether, was eager to delay its redesign until Mr. Trump was out of office, some senior Treasury Department officials have said,” according to the New York Times. “As a presidential candidate in 2016, Mr. Trump criticized the Obama administration’s plans for the bill. That April, Mr. Trump called the change ‘pure political correctness’ and suggested that Tubman, whom he praised, could be added to a far less common denomination, like the $2 bill.”
During the campaign, Trump became a fan of Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, despite growing condemnation of Jackson’s abhorrent treatment of Native Americans, including forcible relocation that resulted in widespread death and disease. It’s unclear what Trump admired in the man, but you can probably venture a guess. The Tubman-for-Jackson swap was an Obama administration initiative, and Trump has pretty much made it his mission to be against anything that came before his presidency. That left the new bill vulnerable to the new president’s fancy and soon the signs pointed to the Trump administration sandbagging the change: The Treasury Department wiped any mention of the redesign from its website and Mnuchin began hedging on the new bill’s future. “People have been on the bills for a long period of time,” Mnuchin said to CNBC in 2017. “This is something we’ll consider. Right now, we’ve got a lot more important issues to focus on.”
In scrapping the bill, Mnuchin didn’t give much of a reason. “It is my responsibility now to focus on what is the issue of counterfeiting and the security features,” Mnuchin said Wednesday. “The ultimate decision on the redesign will most likely be another secretary down the road.”