In her first official campaign swing through Iowa, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is already heading off questions about her claims of Native American ancestry.
At an event in Sioux City on Saturday morning, an audience member confronted the Massachusetts Democrat, asking why she decided to release the results of her DNA test proving her Native American heritage, even as it gave President Donald Trump “more fodder to be a bully?”
”My decision was to put it all out there,” Warren said.
“I am not a person of color,” she added. “I am not a citizen of a tribe. Tribal citizenship is very different from ancestry. Tribes — and only tribes — determine tribal citizenship, and I respect that difference.”
The question of her ancestry will almost certainly surface again now that the progressive senator officially declared her 2020 presidential bid this week by forming an exploratory committee. Now, Warren’s in the middle of a three-day tour through Iowa, where she’s scheduled to meet with local women leaders and host community roundtables across the state.
It’s Warren’s first trip to Iowa since 2014, where she’s continued to drill down on a message of economic populism. Still, the question of her ancestry was the very first issue raised at the Sioux City event on Saturday. Warren lamented how Republicans “honed in on this part of my history” since she first ran for public office and made a lot of “racial slurs. Trump may be at the top of that list, but Warren says there’s little she can do about it.
“I can’t stop Donald Trump from what he’s going to do,” Warren said. “I can’t stop him from hurling racial insults. I don’t have any power to do that.”
But Warren did previously choose to engage with the president’s repeated criticisms of her ancestry in October by releasing the DNA analysis of her genes. The results “strongly suggest” Warren has Native American ancestry that dates back some six to 10 generations ago, and revealed she was anywhere between 1/1024th and 1/32nd Native American.
A tailwind to the controversy over Warren releasing her DNA results
By releasing her DNA results, Warren inevitably fanned the flames for Trump, who for years has mocked her Native heritage by calling her “Pocahontas” and in July dared her to take the genetic test. He made a show of offering to donate $1 million to charity if she did (he later denied ever promising to pony up the money, saying, “Who cares?”).
Months later, she relented by releasing the DNA analysis in full.
That hasn’t forestalled the criticism, however. Either from the right —Trump took a swipe at her again this week by tweeting a (factually inaccurate) meme manufactured by the Daily Wire that looked like a campaign seal with the tagline “Warren: 1/2020th” — or, as the Iowa campaign stop shows, from her own supporters. The DNA test-reveal also reportedly rankled tribal leaders.
But there’s reason to believe some reports of the backlash may be overstated. Whether her DNA reveal was politically savvy or not, the controversy has fed into the image that she’s a lightning-rod political figure whose approval ratings are consistently low — when maybe the common denominator is the negative reactions that female candidates and any woman with ambition provokes among Americans.