The high-profile rollout of Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test is causing more headaches for the Democratic senator, as the results fuel Republican critics' claims that she used a trace amount of Native American heritage to advance her academic career.
Warren, D-Mass., released her DNA test results to The Boston Globe, and then to the public, on Monday. The results revealed “strong evidence” Warren had a Native-American ancestor dating back six to 10 generations. But that means she only would be between 1/64 and 1/1024 Native American—possibly less than the average European American, according to one 2014 study.
Cherokee Nation, the tribe Warren claimed to have a connection to, issued a statement accusing her of “undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.” President Trump seized on that statement to call her a "phony" on Tuesday and urged her to apologize.
Warren strongly denied she was trying to claim tribal affiliation -- and all along has denied using claims of Native-American ancestry to advance her career at Harvard University and other institutions.
But the results showing only a trace presence of Native-American lineage swiftly revived scrutiny of how she may have used that backstory in her professional pursuits.
For decades, Warren had claimed to have Native-American heritage—dating back to 1984 when she reportedly called herself a Cherokee in a local Oklahoma cookbook.
It wasn’t until her 2012 Senate campaign that it was revealed she claimed minority status at universities where she worked.
The Boston Herald reported in April 2012 that her Native American heritage was “once touted by embattled Harvard Law School officials who cited her claim as proof of their faculty’s diversity.” The article cited decades-old diversity records kept by Harvard. The Washington Post also reported that the University of Pennsylvania identified Warren as a minority, citing UPenn’s 2005 “Minority Equity Report.”
The Boston Globe further reported that Warren was listed as a minority professor in The Association of American Law Schools directory for nine years (1986-1995), while she taught at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania and during the beginning of her job at Harvard University.
At the time, Warren initially denied knowledge of how she became identified as a minority professor at Harvard. But she then acknowledged she identified herself as Native American to both Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania after she was hired. She and her aides repeatedly have said it played no role in her hiring.
“At every law school where Elizabeth was recruited to teach, it has been made absolutely clear she was hired based on merit; on her accomplishments and ability,” former Warren spokesperson Alethea Harney told The Washington Post in 2012.
A former dean of Penn Law School told the Post that Warren’s “appointment was based on the excellence of her scholarship and teaching” and he did not know “whether members of the faculty were even aware of her ancestry.”
Nevertheless, Trump on Tuesday suggested Harvard hired her because of her heritage.
“Now that her claims of being of Indian heritage have turned out to be a scam and a lie, Elizabeth Warren should apologize for perpetrating this fraud against the American Public. Harvard called her ‘a person of color’ (amazing con), and would not have taken her otherwise!” Trump tweeted.
Republicans said Monday that even with her DNA test, such a tiny amount of Native-American heritage should not give Warren “the right to claim minority status.”
“Warren might even be less Native American than the average European American,” Republican National Committee spokesman Mike Reed said in a statement Monday.
Despite putting Warren once again on defense, the furor over the DNA test serves to deal with the difficult subject well before the potential launch of a widely expected 2020 presidential run. The controversy also brings her head-to-head with the sitting president before such a race even begins, boosting her national profile even more.
But coming ahead of the November midterms where Democrats are fighting for control of Congress, some party figures complained she was taking Democrats off message.
The former campaign manager for President Obama, Jim Messina, blasted Warren for distracting from the “crucial” midterm races.
“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?” Messina tweeted. “Why can’t Dems ever stay focused???”