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S. 872: Harriet Tubman Tribute Act of 2019

In which year should Harriet Tubman replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill — if at all?

Context

Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist helped rescue more than 700 slavesduring the Civil War era. Her face was scheduled to appear on the front of the $20 bill starting in 2020.

She would have replaced President Andrew Jackson, the face of the bill since 1928 and a controversial choice. As president, he espoused racist views, established the Trail of Tears which killed thousands of Native Americans, and he also opposed paper money.

The announcement of Tubman’s selection came in April 2016, during the closing months of the Obama Administration, yet the Trump Administration has other plans. Trump himself opposed Tubman’s selection. Trump has also named the populist and anti-establishment Jackson as one of his favorite presidents.

Then last week, Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the redesigned bills would be delayed until 2028. Many fear this delay is code for “it won’t happen at all.”

Rep. John Katko (R-NY24) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

What the legislation does

The Harriet Tubman Tribute Act would require her to appear on the $20 bill starting in 2021.

It was introduced in the House on February 7 as bill number H.R. 1083, by Rep. John Katko (R-NY24). It was introduced in the Senate on March 26 as bill number S. 872, by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

What supporters say

Supporters argue Tubman is a far better choice than Jackson and there’s already been plenty of time for the Treasury Department to plan for the change, especially because it was already announced three years ago.

“There is no excuse for the administration’s failure to make this redesign a priority,” Sen. Shaheen said in a press release. “Sadly, this delay sends an unmistakable message to women and girls, and communities of color, who were promised they’d see Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. The needless foot-dragging on this important effort is unacceptable. Our currency tells our country’s story and it is past time to honor the contributions of Harriet Tubman.”

What opponents say

President Trump counters that Jackson was a strong leader and Tubman’s selection was made by the Obama Administration primarily to earn brownie points with the Democrats’ base.

“Well, Andrew Jackson had a great history. I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill. Andrew Jackson had a history of tremendous success for the country,” Trump said on NBC’s Today as a candidate in 2016. “I would love to leave Andrew Jackson… I don’t like seeing it. I think it’s pure political correctness. [He’s] been on the bill for many, many years.”

Odds of passage

The House version has attracted 16 bipartisan cosponsors: 12 Democrats and six Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Financial Services Committee.

The Senate version has attracted two cosponsors, both Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.

While some Republicans supported the change to Tubman at the time it was originally announced, it’s unclear whether the party supports the move sufficiently for Senate passage — or whether they’d be willing to buck Trump on the issue.

Last updated Jun 4, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Mar 26, 2019.


Harriet Tubman Tribute Act of 2019

This bill directs the Department of the Treasury to ensure that the face of all $20 federal reserve notes printed after December 31, 2020, bear the likeness of Harriet Tubman.