For the last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has tried to put the flap over her disputed claims of Cherokee ancestry behind her by embracing tribal causes, but apparently it’s not working.
Calls are rising in Massachusetts for her to take a DNA test in order to resolve once and for all, whether she’s really a Native American as questions surrounding her lineage continue to dog her Senate reelection campaign.
The Berkshire Eagle, a Massachusetts newspaper that endorsed her in 2012, called Tuesday on Ms. Warren to “screw up her courage and take the spit test,” saying that a positive test “would permanently resolve the issue—while possibly shutting down President Trump.”
Even if the test shows no Cherokee ancestry, “it would be an opportunity for the senator to perform an act rarely seen among politicians: an admission of her error and a full-throated apology to Native American tribes and anyone else offended by her spurious claim,” said the editorial.
“By facing the truth and taking responsibility for it, she would disarm her enemies and show potential voters that she was human and capable of mistakes, just like them,” the newspaper said.
Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi liked the idea, following up Wednesday with an op-ed headlined, “Taking a DNA test could solve at least one of Elizabeth Warren’s political problems.”
“I’ve written before about the disproportionate unfairness of decrying Warren’s dodge on this matter, given Trump’s blatant lies on so much more,” she said. “Yet, as reported by the Globe, it’s a political reality for Warren that’s not going away.”
Ms. Warren can thank Mr. Trump for that: He has recharged accusations that she leveraged phony claims of Native American ancestry to advance her career by dubbing her “Pocahontas,” a nickname that has stuck.
After it became clear that ignoring the criticism was no longer working, Ms. Warren reversed her strategy, meeting with tribal leaders, signing onto bills supporting Native Americans, and surprising her detractors with a high-profile appearance last month at the National Conference of American Indians.
“I’m here today to make a promise: Every time someone brings up my family’s story, I’m going to use it to lift up the story of your families and your communities,” Ms. Warren said at the Feb. 14 winter session in Washington, D.C.
She claimed Cherokee ancestry while on the law faculties of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania despite not being an enrolled member of any tribe, but has since insisted that she never benefited from receiving minority status.
“I get why some people think there’s hay to be made here: You won’t find my family members on any rolls, and I’m not enrolled in a tribe,” Ms. Warren said. “And I want to make something clear: I respect that distinction, I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes, and only by tribes. I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead; I never used it to advance my career.”
Her disputed ancestry had drawn criticism from some Native Americans, but NCAI president Jefferson Keel said afterward that “we are deeply honored by the courage she showed today.”
“We appreciate her candor, humility, and honesty, and look forward to working with her as a champion for Indian Country,” Mr. Keel said in a statement.
Her remarks may have eased criticism within Indian Country but not necessarily Massachusetts, where her Republican and Independent challengers continue to pound the issue.
“Only Elizabeth Warren can answer why she assumed a Native American identity as she was climbing the career ladder in academia,” said Republican Beth Lindstrom after the NCAI speech. “I’m more concerned with what she stands for than who she claims to be, and the fact is she is a major contributor to the negative dynamic and dysfunction in Washington.”
Republican John Kingston said she has never resolved the question of whether she received preferential treatment at Harvard—the university says she didn’t—adding that “the call for full transparency will only grow louder.”
(1/2) @SenWarren’s speech today distracts from an issue she has never addressed: did she claim to be a member of a Native American tribe in order to obtain preferential consideration for employment at Harvard University? https://t.co/omlMhSPhFL
— John Kingston (@johnkingstonma) February 14, 2018
She won the 2012 election in the deep blue state even after then-Republican Sen. Scott Brown took her to task over the ancestry claim, and polls taken late last year show her with double-digit leads over her would-be challengers.
The bigger problem for the progressive Democratic standard-bearer may be how the issue plays if she decides to run for president, as many expect her to do, including her Senate opponents.
“Senator Warren has had decades to address her so-called claims of American Indian heritage. Why now?” asked Republican Geoff Diehl after her speech. “This is another media stunt by Warren to gain national exposure for her presidential run. It doesn’t excuse her for wrongfully claiming a minority appointment. Her words today of caring don’t seem to match her actions of the past.”
Ms. Warren has already rejected one opportunity to take a DNA test: Shiva Ayyadurai, an MIT-educated entrepreneur who’s running against her as an Independent, sent her a kit last year for her birthday in June, but she returned it.
Mr. Ayyadurai’s campaign slogan is, “Only a real Indian can defeat the fake Indian.”
The Eagle noted that it’s possible Ms. Warren, who says she relied on family lore in identifying herself as Cherokee, has already taken a DNA test.
“If she already has but is keeping the results under wraps, we urge her to be forthcoming with them,” said the Eagle. “She has nothing to lose but her Achilles’ heel.”
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