Biden's Treasury revives push to put Harriet Tubman on $20 bill after Trump shelved it

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Harriet Tubman, circa 1870

HB Lindsey | Underwood Archives | Getty Images

The Biden administration will revive the push to make Harriet Tubman the face of the new $20 bill, an effort that was shelved during former President Donald Trump’s term.

“We’re exploring ways to speed up that effort,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday after being asked if the new administration would pick up the Obama-era initiative.

The updated $20 note featuring Tubman, the former slave who became an icon of the abolition movement, was originally set to be unveiled around the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

But Trump’s Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, announced during a 2019 congressional hearing that the redesign would be delayed until 2028. Mnuchin said at the time that the primary reason for redesigning a currency is to combat counterfeiting efforts.

Psaki said Monday that the Treasury Department is “taking steps to resume efforts” to put Tubman’s image on the front of the new $20 bills.

It’s important for U.S. bills to “reflect the history and diversity of our country,” Psaki said, “and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that.”

Tubman’s face on the bill would replace that of Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president. Trump was such a big fan of Jackson’s that he featured a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office. Joe Biden, who took office last Wednesday, removed the portrait.

Trump before being elected had called the plan to replace Jackson with Tubman “pure political correctness.”

A spokeswoman for the Treasury Department echoed Psaki’s remarks in a separate statement to CNBC. Jack Lew, the Treasury secretary under former President Barack Obama who spearheaded the effort to put Tubman on the $20, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Redesigning the bill is an intricate process that will take time and require more changes than just a simple face swap. For example, it took 11 years to develop the blue security strip that now adorns the $100 bill.

Producing the new $20 notes with robust anti-counterfeiting technology and other security measures in place will require a new high-speed printing facility, which is currently scheduled for 2025.

Concepts for an updated $50 note are in development.

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