The Biden administration says it is “exploring ways to speed up” release of $20 bills featuring abolitionist Harriet Tubman after the Trump administration delayed the move first initiated by President Barack Obama.
“It’s important that our notes, our money — if people don’t know what a note is — reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday.
A spokesperson for the Treasury Department confirmed to CNN that the agency is “exploring ways to resume” putting Tubman on the bill.
There are production factors that will need to be considered in order for the bill to be released before 2028 — when the Trump administration estimated the new note would be unveiled. For example, the Tubman bill will need to produced in a new, high-speed printing facility, which is currently scheduled to begin printing in 2025.
Tubman, the once-enslaved African-American woman who guided dozens enslaved people to their freedom through the Underground Railroad in the 1800s, would replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.
Tubman, born in Maryland, escaped the plantation where she was enslaved and went to Pennsylvania in 1849. Over the following decade, she made more than a dozen trips to Maryland to free enslaved persons, according to the National Parks Service.
During the Civil War, Tubman served as a US Army spy, scout, nurse and cook. And in her later years, Tubman was involved in the women’s suffrage movement.
While campaigning in 2016, President Donald Trump called the decision to redesign the $20 with Tubman’s image front and center “pure political correctness.” He suggested at the time that Tubman be put on the $2 bill, which is no longer printed, instead.
And throughout his presidency, Trump expressed appreciation for Jackson, visiting his grave, tweeting about Jackson, “We honor your memory. We build on your legacy” and displaying Jackson portraits in the Oval Office.
Different groups have criticized the glorification of Jackson’s legacy — specifically for owning slaves, his record on racial issues and his decision to sign legislation that ultimately led to the deadly “Trail of Tears.” That legislation forced tens of thousands of Cherokees out of Georgia and moved to what’s now Oklahoma.
In a 2018 interview at the Economic Club of Washington, Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dodged when asked about progress with regard to the new bill, saying, “We haven’t made any decisions as to whether we’ll change the bill, or won’t change the bill.”
Mnuchin later said the bill wouldn’t be unveiled until 2028 because of “technical issues.” But The New York Times reported in 2019 that in fact the “basic design already on paper most likely could have satisfied the goal of unveiling” the redesigned note by 2020. The paper said it obtained an image of the new note from a former department official, which “depicts Tubman in a dark coat with a wide collar and a white scarf.”
According to the paper, the design “was completed in late 2016.”
This story has been updated with additional reporting on Tubman and the Treasury Department’s plans.