With the future design of the $20 bill uncertain, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers introduced legislation Friday to require the Treasury Department to replace President Andrew Jackson’s portrait with an image of abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
The Obama administration announced a redesign last year of the $20 bill that included an image of Tubman, the Dorchester County native who ferried dozens of slaves to freedom. But Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin recently declined to commit to the plan, and so, for now, its future is unclear.
Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, and John Katko, a New York Republican, introduced a measure that would require Treasury to replace Jackson’s image with Tubman’s. If approved, Tubman would be the first African-American pictured on the face of U.S. currency.
“Too often, our nation does not do enough to honor the contributions of women in American history, especially women of color,” Cummings said in a statement. “Her courage, conviction and commitment to equality represent the best of America and it is long past time we recognize her place in history.”
Tubman’s life has repeatedly inspired bipartisanship, particularly between lawmakers in Maryland and New York — where the Underground Railroad conductor moved after the Civil War. Cummings and Katko introduced legislation in 2015 calling on Treasury to feature Tubman’s image on a note.
Jacob Lew, Mnuchin's predecessor, announced last year that Tubman would be featured on a new $20 bill to be unveiled in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the year women received the right to vote. At the time, then-candidate Donald Trump described the announcement as "pure political correctness."
President Trump has repeatedly praised Jackson, who was president from 1829 to 1837. Jackson, Trump said last year, “had a history of tremendous success for the country" and “represented somebody really that was very important to this country.”
Trump said he would “love to see another denomination” for Tubman.
The issue remained mostly out of sight until Mnuchin declined to commit to the Tubman $20 bill in an Aug. 31 interview on CNBC.
“People have been on the bills for a long period of time. And this is something we will consider," Mnuchin said when asked directly whether he supported using Tubman’s image on the bill. "Right now, we've got a lot more important issues to focus on."
The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment Friday about Cummings’ legislation or questions about when officials might announce a decision.
“Harriet Tubman is a hero who bravely led countless Americans to freedom and opportunity, courageously fought for her country,” Katko said in a statement. “I’m proud to once again introduce legislation with Rep. Cummings to honor the life of Harriet Tubman and her incredible contributions to this great nation.”