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U.S. Treasury's Mnuchin: no plans to speed Harriet Tubman $20 bill despite protests

FILE PHOTO: United States Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin testifies before a Senate panel on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. June 10, 2020. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury has no plans to accelerate introduction of a $20 bill picturing escaped slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman despite protests over police treatment of African-Americans, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday.

Mnuchin, speaking to reporters on a video call, said there was a longstanding schedule to introduce the next $20 bill in 2030, and decisions regarding its design were years away. He said it was a “myth” the Trump administration was delaying its introduction.

“I just want to clarify that we have not changed any of this and this is something in the distant future,” Mnuchin said, adding he was focused on sophisticated anti-counterfeit technology in the bills.

The image of Tubman, born into slavery in 1822 and who later escaped from a Maryland plantation and helped hundreds of slaves reach freedom, was first proposed for the $20 note in 2016 by Democratic then-President Barack Obama’s last Treasury secretary, Jack Lew.

Lew’s goal was for Tubman to replace former President Andrew Jackson, who owned slaves, on the $20 bill in 2020.

Republican President Donald Trump derided the idea as a candidate in 2016, later calling it an example of “pure political correctness.”

Mnuchin told lawmakers here last year the 2020 goal could not be met and on Thursday said the 2030 schedule was set by career Treasury officials due to the $20 bill's widespread use in automated teller machines. A Treasury official said the redesign schedule was set in 2015.

The next major currency redesign will be the $10 bill in 2026, which Mnuchin said would keep the image of Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Treasury secretary, after discussions of changes prompted “a lot of pushback.”

The Treasury chief declined to say whether he personally supported Tubman’s image for the $20 because that decision was for a future Treasury secretary, even if Trump wins a second four-year term and Mnuchin serves.

Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lincoln Feast.