- Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s rollout on Monday of a campaign defending her claims to Native American ancestry sparked a debate on the left.
- Some on the left applauded Warren’s effort preemptive defence against what is likely to be President Donald Trump’s favoured line of attack against her in 2020.
- Others recoiled at her engagement with what they see as a bigoted understanding of race and ethnicity.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign defending her claims to Native American ancestry sparked a debate on the left Monday, with some applauding her attempt to clear the air before an increasingly likely presidential run and others criticising the timing of the move and her engagement with what they see as bad faith, racist attacks.
As part of a polished campaign that includes a website featuring family documents and testimonials and a five-minute video, Warren released the findings of a DNA test conducted by a Stanford University scientist that found “strong evidence” that the Massachusetts Democrat had a Native American ancestor “6-10 generations ago.”
The release came after months of Trump’s goading on the issue, perhaps peaking at a July rally when he said he would give $US1 million to a charity of Warren’s choice if a DNA test found she had Native American heritage. (On Monday, Trump first denied he ever said this, then said he would only pay if he could do the test himself.)
While the effort likely won’t halt Trump’s attacks, it may help assuage the concerns of those across the political spectrum who take issue with Warren’s interpretation of her identity, an issue that’s dogged her since her 2012 Senate campaign.
Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic strategist, said she is relieved Warren has finally issued a full-throated defence and engaged with the criticism. She argued that Warren made the same mistake former President Barack Obama did when he waited years to release his birth certificate as Trump promoted his “birther” conspiracy claiming the president was not a US-born citizen.
“They let it sit there for too long – they ignored it, ignored it, ignored it, only to then finally put it to rest … and in both cases it proved that Donald Trump is a liar,” Marsh told Business Insider, adding that she “took a lot of grief” for calling on Warren to clear the air when she first ran for the Senate.
But Marsh and others say better late than never.
Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said Warren’s transparency on the issue will only cast a harsher light on Trump’s refusal to answer questions about his own career.
“People have seen everything from Elizabeth Warren’s DNA to John Podesta’s Risotto recipe, but Donald Trump’s tax returns and health records remain a mystery,” Ferguson told Business Insider. “The spotlight is now back on Donald Trump’s secret life and what he’s hiding from the American people.”
An ill-timed distraction?
Some Democratic operatives argue the timing of the rollout – just three weeks before the midterm elections – will distract from other Democratic candidates in need of media attention and the president’s own failings.
“Argue the substance all you want, but why 22 days before a crucial election where we MUST win house and senate to save America, why did @SenWarren have to do her announcement now? Why can’t Dems ever stay focused???” tweetedJim Messina, former President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager.
Other observers said Warren’s decision to engage in political battle on Trump’s terms is unnecessary this far ahead of a general election.
“How much advantage is to be had in the Democratic primary by fighting with Trump, and talking to Trump, and how much do Democratic voters want in on that conversation?” BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith wrote in a Monday piece.
But still others countered that waiting until after the midterms to release her defensive campaign would have created a longer lasting and potentially more damaging news cycle for Warren.
“We all know that the moment that the last poll closes on November 6, 2018, 2020 starts,” Adrienne Elrod, a Democratic strategist and former spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, told Business Insider. “It’s going to be noisy, and it’s going to be loud, and it’s going to be hard if you’re one of 15 candidates running … to get your message out.”
‘Pure racist and eugenicist garbage’
Warren’s claims have also generated controversy among many Native Americans and critics on the left who question her decision to stick by her claims without providing any evidence to support them.
“Daily Show” host Trevor Noah last year went so far as to call Trump’s criticism of Warren “woke” because Warren’s claims, he said, were “problematic.”
And on Monday some argued that the DNA test legitimized a wrong-headed belief that Native American identity can be genetically proven.
“Indigenous people are nations that select & determine their own membership, based on their own customs not DNA tests. No one claims Warren,” tweetedNick Estes, an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico. “Using a DNA test to prove ‘race’ is pure racist and eugenicist garbage.”
Warren addressed this issue in her video, clarifying that she does not belong to any tribe.
“I’m not enrolled in a tribe, and only tribes determine tribal citizenship. I understand and respect that distinction,” she said.
By the end of the day, the verdict on Warren’s gambit was perhaps rendered when she came under fire from the Cherokee Nation, which issued a rare statement slamming her rollout and saying she was “undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”
“A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement.
He added: “Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is wrong.”
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