Mnuchin says putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill is not a priority

The administration would rather defend Confederate statues.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during the news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during the news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In a Thursday interview with CNBC’s Steve Liesman, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wouldn’t commit to President Obama’s pledge to remove former President Andrew Jackson, prominent slaveowner, from the $20 dollar bill and replace it with an image of abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

“Ultimately we will be looking at this issue. It’s not something I’m focused on at the moment,” said Mnuchin. “The No. 1 issue why we change the currency is to stop counterfeiting. So the issues of what we change will be primarily related to what we need to do for security purposes. I’ve received classified briefings on that. And that’s what I’m focused on for the most part. People have been on the bills for a long period of time. And this is something we will consider. Right now, we’ve got a lot more important issues to focus on.”

Just a week ago, the president called neo-Nazi and white nationalist protesters who rallied against the removal of a onfederate statue in Charlottesville, Va. “very fine people.”  It is clear the Trump administration has placed an emphasis on elevating racist historical figures and by proxy, elevating the voices modern-day racists who view them as martyrs for a white nationalist cause.

With a series of tweets earlier in the month, President Donald Trump lamented the removal of confederate statues, claiming the absence of statues erected to glorify the soldiers who fought for the enslavement of African Americans rips apart the culture of the United States.

Members of Congress have already begun to speak out in opposition to Mnuchin’s remarks. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Sen. Ben Cardin (both D-MD) wrote a letter to Mnuchin urging him to not abandon the plans to put Tubman on the $20 dollar bill. The Senators represent Maryland, the state where Tubman was born a slave and eventually escaped to freedom and helped others to freedom as well.

“Those we honor on currency make a statement about our nation and our values,” the Senators wrote. “We urge you to move forward to honor Harriet Tubman and make a strong statement about our nation’s commitment to equality and justice.”

 

In April of 2016, the Treasury Department announced its plan to overhaul a number of U.S. paper bills to feature African Americans and female civil rights icons. The switch was widely celebrated as a step in the right direction, as there are no women featured on U.S. paper money.

Some conservatives, however, were predictably not so happy with the change. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said it is “unnecessary to diminish Jackson in order to honor Tubman.” Rep Steve King (R-IA) even went as far as filing an amendment that would prohibit the Treasury Department from adding Tubman to paper currency saying, “It’s not about Harriet Tubman, it’s about keeping the picture on the $20.”

Tubman’s place on the $20 dollar bill was in jeopardy since it was announced. The switch isn’t expected to happen until 2030, when the next reissue of $20 dollar bills was expected to roll out, and future Treasury secretaries could reverse the decision in the meantime, which seems to be exactly what Mnuchin is doing.