Is Elizabeth Warren Native American? Depends what the meaning of 'is' is

Let's say you're running for office and in one campaign speech, you claim to be a certified lawn sprinkler technician. So, your opponent challenges you to take the Comprehensive Lawn Sprinkler Technician Certification (CLSTC) test, just, you know, to prove it.

And you say, "Nah. I know who I am."

Well, chances are you'd be labeled a liar, lose the election -- and maybe even be run out of town on a rail.

But that's pretty much what Sen. Elizabeth Warren is doing. The Massachusetts Democrat has long claimed to be of Native American descent, but when she was asked on Sunday if she'd take a DNA test to prove her heritage, she balked -- big time.

“I know who I am. And never used it for anything. Never got any benefit from it anywhere,” Warren said of her ancestry on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

No benefit? That part is most definitely in dispute.

"Harvard Law School in the 1990s touted Warren, then a professor in Cambridge, as being Native American,'" CNN reported last November. "They singled her out, Warren later acknowledged, because she had listed herself as a minority in an Association of American Law Schools directory. Critics note that she had not done that in her student applications and during her time as a teacher at the University of Texas."

So, maybe Warren's answers on her heritage are just that -- word play. After all, she was born in America, so technically, she really is a "native American."

A 1997 Fordham Law Review article even ID'd the Democrat as Harvard Law’s “first woman of color.”

In her "Meet the Press" interview, Warren -- who many expect will run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 -- fell back on well-crafted and oft recited talking points, without really answering the question as to whether she'd take a DNA test.

"So let me tell you the story of my family. My mother and daddy were born and raised in Oklahoma. My daddy first saw my mother when they were both teenagers. He fell in love with this tall, quiet girl who played the piano. Head over heels. But his family was bitterly opposed to their relationship because she was part Native American. They eventually eloped. They survived the Great Depression. The Dust Bowl. A lot of knocks. They raised my three brothers, all of whom headed off to the military, and me. And they fought. They loved each other. And most of all they hung together for 63 years. And that’s the story that my brothers and I all learned from our mom and our dad, from our grandparents, from all of our aunts and uncles. It’s a part of me, and nobody’s going to take that part of me away."

Shwoo. Quite a mouthful. She gave almost the exact same answer on Fox News when queried on the topic by John Roberts.

The nagging questions just won't go away. During the 2016 campaign, Trump nicknamed Warren "Pocahontas" -- a moniker some claim is racist. And he hammers her every chance he gets, as he did in a campaign rally on Saturday in Pennsylvania. “You know, I was watching, during the campaign, and Hillary [Clinton] was sitting right there, and Pocahontas was up, she was so angry, you know, I think she’s losing the audience,” Trump said.

The whole topic has come up again because the Berkshire Eagle, a newspaper in Massachusetts, where Warren is running for re-election, said last week that she "must resolve" the debate on her heritage. "All the senator needs to do is spit into a tube, wait a few weeks and get her answer. No matter if the test came up negative or positive, it would constitute a plus for Warren and her political hopes."

If positive, the paper said, end of story. If negative, "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." That, the paper claims, would also put the issue to bed.

But would it? In a fact checker piece in 2016, the Washington Post said "we found that Warren’s relying on family lore rather than official documentation to make an ethnic claim raised serious concerns about Warren’s judgment." And Donald Trump Jr. on Sunday mocked Warren's reliance on that lore, saying maybe she can simply "identify" as Native American, the way the very white Rachel Dolezal calls herself "black."

Whichever way you come down, it's hard to ignore the fact that Warren has a credibility issue. In three different TV interviews on Sunday, she was asked if she's running in 2020. "I am not running for president," she said in all three.

Wait, did she say she will not run for president in 2020, or that she is not running, like, right now, currently? Social media exploded with speculation.

So, maybe Warren's answers on her heritage are just that -- word play. After all, she was born in America, so technically, she really is a "native American."

And as Bill Clinton said, it all depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is. Now as much as ever.