Obama officials concede role in slow $20 Harriet Tubman bill rollout: report

After Democrat lawmakers and commentators spent months hammering the Trump administration for supposedly delaying the release of a $20 bill featuring abolitionist Harriet Tubman, several officials appointed by President Barack Obama have reportedly admitted that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has followed the Obama timeline for producing the new currency.

The Obama administration said 2016 that it wanted to remove Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill and replace him with Tubman, who helped free slaves through the Underground Railroad, and that the bills would be ready in 2020. But a current "high-ranking government official" appointed by Obama, as well as a former official, confirmed to The Washington Post that the Tubman bill had "had "always been scheduled for release toward the end of the next decade."

Obama Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's 2016 claims that a "final concept design" of the bill would be released in 2020 were viewed with skepticism internally, according to the report. Larry R. Felix, the director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing from 2006 to 2015, told The Post that too much security work needed to be done to realistically release the bill in 2020.


“Those announcements were not grounded in reality," Felix said, referring to the Obama administration's promises to have the bill ready by 2020. "The U.S. had not at the time acquired the security features to redesign and protect the notes."

This 1860-75 photo made available by the Library of Congress shows Harriet Tubman. (Harvey B. Lindsley/Library of Congress via AP)

This 1860-75 photo made available by the Library of Congress shows Harriet Tubman. (Harvey B. Lindsley/Library of Congress via AP)

Mnuchin has cited those security issues in testimony before Congress, saying the bill would likely not be ready until 2028.

Progressive commentators and lawmakers rejected that explanation.

"The white supremacists running this country are not about to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill to have y'all contemplating racism and resistance every time y'all go to the ATM," artist Bree Newsome Bass wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., claimed the episode sent an “unmistakable message to women and girls, and communities of color.”


In a letter demanding an investigation, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called any unnecessary delay in honoring Tubman on the $20 note "improper and unacceptable."

Charlotte Clymer, a communications representative for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a tweet that the Trump administration was lying to "pander" to white supremacists.

"Make no mistake: the decision to cancel the unveiling of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill is purely to pander to white supremacy. Period. Being 'delayed until 2028' is a goddamn lie. This is an attempt to make fragile white people comfortable."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., slammed the Tubman delay as an “insult to the hopes of millions."

And CNN anchor Don Lemon implied in June that Trump halted plans for placing Tubman on the $20 bill because of his admiration for "slaveowner" President Andrew Jackson, the current face on the currency.

On his "CNN Tonight" telecast, Lemon played a video clip of then-candidate Trump saying that he'd "love" to leave Jackson on the $20 bill and suggesting that Tubman could instead go on the $2 bill, calling the Obama-era Tubman plan "pure political correctness."

"So Harriet Tubman, the American hero who risked her life to free slaves, should get the $2 bill that hasn't been printed in years, and Andrew Jackson, the owner of slaves who is known for the policies that led to the deaths of countless of Native Americans, should stay on the 20?" Lemon asked.

He concluded that Mnuchin had given a"misleading excuse" to Congress.

"What does it say about this administration that it went through all of this to avoid giving an African-American hero, a symbol of the fight against slavery, even a token acknowledgment?" Lemon asked.


The Post noted, however, that Mnuchin has not shown the same public "enthusiasm" as his predecessor for getting Tubman on the bill.

Fox News' Joseph Wulfson contributed to this report. 

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Charlotte Clymer's tweet as having been deleted.