U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gave a wide-ranging interview on CNBC Thursday, fielding questions on tax reform, the debt ceiling and the health of the U.S. economy.
But that's not what interested political journalists and social media users.
Rather, it was Mnuchin's answer to a question about the excellent proposal to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with civil rights hero Harriet Tubman that caught the Internet's attention.
CNBC's Steve Liesman asked Mnuchin, "Your predecessor [former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew] supported the idea of removing Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill and putting Harriet Tubman on. Do you support that idea?"
Mnuchin declined to give a simple "yes" or "no" answer. Instead, he gave a political response, which is to say he said not much of anything.
"Let me just comment on, you know, ultimately we will be looking at this issue. It's not something that I'm focused on at the moment, but the number one issue why we change the currency is to stop counterfeiting. So the issues of why we change it will be primarily related to what we need to do for security purposes, and I've received classified briefings on that. That's what I'm focused on for the moment," he said.
His interviewer persisted, saying, "Certainly there are cultural aspects as to decisions we make as to who is on what bill, right?"
Mnuchin responded, "Again, people have been on the bills for a long period of time. This is something we'll consider. Right now we got a lot more important issues to focus on."
This is a classic example of a noncommittal, political response. You say a bunch of words, but there's not a lot of meat to it, and you get to avoid saying "yes" or "no."
Unsurprisingly, Mnuchin's failure to offer his total support for the idea of replacing Jackson with an honest-to-God civil rights hero left many in media shocked and some disgusted:Tweets about https://twitter.com/ylanmui/status/903283654146768896 filter:verified
Calling it now: Mnuchin's evasion on this question is going to end up being the most-talked about moment from the CNBC interview. It's not going to be what the Treasury Secretary said about the debt ceiling or tax reform. The focus is going to be on his seeming lack of interest in changing up the look of a specific bit of U.S. currency.
Tax reform and the debt ceiling are indeed bigger issues than whose face is on the $20 bill, but the matter of removing Jackson is pretty long-running.
Sixteen months ago, Trump criticized the proposal to remove Jackson as "pure political correctness." He did have some praise for Tubman as well, and seemed unfazed by (or perhaps unaware of?) the fact that putting her on the $2 bill would displace Thomas Jefferson:
I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic … I would love to — I would love to leave Andrew Jackson and see if we can maybe come up with another denomination. Maybe we do the $2 bill or we do another bill.
In any case, this is our life now – culture wars all the way down.