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Process Of Changing $10 Bill Is Ongoing, Treasury Secretary Lew Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we have a glimpse this morning into the world of decisions facing Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. He's in Peru this week for meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. He is pressing Congress to raise the federal debt limit, as we're hearing elsewhere on today's program.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Then there's the truly significant matter - the question of a woman on the money.

INSKEEP: It is at least the issue that captured public imagination. Lew's Treasury Department is in the midst of choosing a woman to put on the $10 bill.

MONTAGNE: The announcement in June provoked outrage from fans of the man who would be displaced - Alexander Hamilton.

INSKEEP: Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said he was appalled by Hamilton's demotion.

MONTAGNE: Hamilton's prominent biographer Ron Chernow denounced the move.

INSKEEP: So did countless opinion writers, as well as fans of the acclaimed musical "Hamilton," which is now on Broadway.

MONTAGNE: The outrage flowed even though the Treasury Department says Hamilton will still be honored, along with a woman, on the bill in some way.

INSKEEP: All of this protest led to a question when we sat with Treasury Secretary Lew in his office yesterday.

I grant that it was something that was automatic because you were picking that bill because you had to redesign it anyway. But are you in any way regretful that Hamilton was the guy that was targeted?

SEC OF THE TREASURY JACK LEW: So Steve, I'm looking at you, and over your shoulder is a life-size portrait of Alexander Hamilton. I look at that portrait every day when I'm in my office, and he's been an inspiration not just to me but to every occupant of this office since the founding of the United States. So there was never any intention to do anything other than continue to honor Alexander Hamilton.

INSKEEP: But did you have a moment of, like, oh, gosh...

LEW: No...

INSKEEP: ...I wish I hadn't done that?

LEW: I actually think what we accomplished this summer was something pretty impressive. We had millions of American people talking about American history and how they see democracy in America and what they think that means in terms of what should be on our currency. And what I announced was we were going to be putting out a whole new family of bills, not just the $10 bill. But we're going to be redesigning the other bills in this new series. And I said that there's going to potentially be a number of changes, so I just invite you to kind of stay tuned and in the end see whether we keep the commitment I made to continue to honor both a woman and Alexander Hamilton and our history of democracy.

INSKEEP: Because you're going through all the bills, should we expect that there will be multiple women on the currency?

LEW: Well, what I would say is that everyone is focused on 1-square inch of the bill. There's two whole sides to a bill, and there's a lot of space to tell a lot of stories.

INSKEEP: I've just got to ask because you're hinting at things you could do. Do you know what you're going to do and you're waiting, or do you not know what you're going to do?

LEW: So we're still going through the process of listening. I mean, we literally got well over a million and a half responses in one form or another from people ranging from tweets and retweets to handwritten notes. We've done roundtables and discussions. And there's some design process, and the security issues are paramount because the reason we redesign bills in a certain order is to make sure that our currency is safe and sound, it can't be counterfeited. So it's a process that is still ongoing. And as I've said before, we'll make a decision by the end of the year. And it's one of the more exciting announcements people are waiting to hear.

INSKEEP: But as to the faces, you don't know yet what you're going to do?

LEW: I'm not in a position to make an announcement today, Steve.

INSKEEP: That is different than not knowing, Mr. Secretary.

LEW: No, the final decisions are not made yet.

INSKEEP: That's Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, speaking yesterday. Elsewhere on today's program, we hear from Secretary Lew about some of the deadlines Congress is facing to raise the federal debt ceiling and also to keep the government open. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.