You keep using that word: Congressman fails to block so-called "racist" and "sexist" Harriet Tubman $20

Republican Steve King gets shot down in his effort to uphold the Andrew Jackson bill because "I am a conservative"

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published June 22, 2016 2:56PM (EDT)

Steve King   (Reuters/Brian C. Frank)
Steve King (Reuters/Brian C. Frank)

Steve King is a 67 year-old white man. Naturally, the Republican member of the House of Representatives from Iowa has some opinions about what constitutes "racist" and "sexist" behavior. Spoiler: He's a big fan of the status quo. So you can imagine how distraught he has been lately at the prospect of seeing a black woman's face on his money.

Back in April, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced a proposal to replace the face of slaveholder Andrew Jackson on the $20 with that of former slave, abolitionist, humanitarian, Union spy, hero, African American and female person Harriet Tubman. Jackson would, by the way, still have real estate on the bill, albeit in a smaller supporting role on the back. The designs are set to be unveiled in 2020. Lew said in April that after listening to feedback from the public, "The pattern became clear that Harriet Tubman struck a chord with people in all parts of the country, of all ages."

Well, not all people. Rep. King, who was the co-chairman of noted champion of equality Ted Cruz's presidential campaign, sees things differently. Earlier this week, he filed an amendment for that would bar all funding to the Treasury Department for redesigning any paper or coin currency. As CNN reported, "If the amendment is enacted, it would nullify the Treasury Department's plans to replace the current image of Jackson on the $20 bill with a portrait of Tubman."

And, just in case you're thinking perhaps there was some other reasoning for King's actions, nope, he's spelled them out quite clearly.

Throwing some truly quality shade, the New York Daily News reports that "Second-term Republican Steve King claimed that putting the abolitionist in place of President Andrew Jackson, most famous for the Trail of Tears, would be divisive."

Plus, change is soooo hard, guys. Speaking for the "satisfied with the degree of representation my own demographic has in the world" constituency, King told reporters Tuesday, "It’s not about Harriet Tubman, no, it’s about keeping the picture on the twenty."

He then produced a $20 bill from his pocket — and I like to imagine here that he gazed at it like a 10 year-old looking at Zayn Malik — and asked, "Why would you want to change that? I am a conservative. I like to keep what we have." He really does! He doesn't understand how America can have a president with the middle name Hussein! He thinks marriage equality means marrying a lawnmower! Anyway, he's a genius.

When journalists asked why we shouldn't have a person of color or a woman on our currency, the Omaha World-Herald says that "King characterized such thinking as 'sexist' and 'racist.'" He went on to rail against the "liberal activism" of President Obama, and said, "He’s divided us down the lines of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, prosperity versus poverty, and pitted us against each other. This is a divisive proposal on the part of the president…. Why does this come up now when we’ve got a country to run? It’s because President Obama is on his way out the door and you’re going to watch — he’s going to do everything he can think of to upset this society and this civilization and he’ll pit more people against each other and get more people to think of themselves as members of a group. I’m one of God’s children. So was Harriet, so was Jackson. There’s no reason to make the change."

Sure there is. The House Rules Committee agrees, denying him a vote on the proposal and ending his dream of keeping our green as white possible. And honestly, if the only reason to make this change was to annoy guys like Steve King, it gets my vote forever.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Currency Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman $20 Race Rep. Steve King Treasury Department