Today, Elizabeth Warren issued a thorough and brutal attack on Donald Trump's credibility. Predictably, Trump was asked about Warren's comments in a press conference later that day.
This follows similar comments Trump made to Maureen Dowd of The New York Times over the weekend:
Asked about her jabs, he pounced: “I think it’s wonderful because the Indians can now partake in the future of the country. She’s got about as much Indian blood as I have. Her whole life was based on a fraud. She got into Harvard and all that because she said she was a minority.”
What is Trump talking about?
Back in April of 2012, Warren was in the grips of a Senate campaign against incumbent Scott Brown when the Boston Herald unearthed that Harvard Law School held up Warren's "Native American background" as evidence of a diverse hiring pool during her tenure there in the 1990s.
What followed was a weeks-long attempt on Warren's part to creatively have it both ways: while she admitted to listing herself as a minority in a law school directory in order to connect with "people like me" and that being descendant of Native Americans is an "important" part of her heritage, she also claimed to not have used her background for personal gain. And she denied knowing Harvard ever touted her as a minority. But according to The Atlantic, she has shifted between listing herself as white and a minority throughout her career:
Warren, who graduated from the University of Houston in 1970 and got her law degree from Rutgers University in 1976, did not seek to take advantage of affirmative action policies during her education, according documents obtained by the Associated Press and The Boston Globe. On the application to Rutgers Law School she was asked, "Are you interested in applying for admission under the Program for Minority Group Students?'' "No," she replied.
While a teacher at the University of Texas, she listed herself as "white." But between 1986 and 1995, she listed herself as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools Directory of Faculty; the University of Pennsylvania in a 2005 "minority equity report" also listed her as one of the minority professors who had taught at its law school.
Warren traces her Native American heritage to stories her family told her while growing up in Oklahoma. “I am very proud of my heritage,” Warren told NPR in 2012. “These are my family stories. This is what my brothers and I were told by my mom and my dad, my mammaw and my pappaw. This is our lives. And I’m very proud of it.” She claims to be 1/32 Cherokee, descendant of Delaware Indians.
But is 1/32 Native American enough to claim as part of one's heritage? Depends on who you ask.
This New York Times piece from 2012 points out that 1/32 Cherokee ancestry would be "sufficient for tribal citizenship." The Atlantic, on the other hand, says "Warren would not be eligible to become a member of any of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes based on the evidence so far surfaced by independent genealogists about her ancestry.
And the Herald later quoted a genealogist, who reported that Warren's family history meant she was 1/32 Native American if her great-great-great grandmother was full-blooded—an assertion that has so far gone without documentation to corroborate. But that does not necessarily mean Warren is wrong to claim Native American heritage. From The Atlantic:
None of this to say that a Cherokee citizen couldn't look like Warren. Though it confounds many people's expectations, the Cherokee Nation considers being Cherokee as much an ethnicity as anything racial, and given the tribe's centuries-long history of intermarriage there are many Cherokee citizens today who do not look stereotypically Native American. As well, "there are a lot of folks who are legitimately Cherokee who are not eligible for citizenship," said [Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton, a spokesperson for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma], because, for example, their ancestors lived in distant states or territories when the rolls were drawn up, or because they are direct descendants of people left off the rolls for other reasons.
Either way, right-wing blogs have long loved this pseudo-birther story: both Breitbart and the Daily Caller have since published multiple posts referencing Warren's claims, and there's an entire right-wing Wiki-style page running down every detail of the controversy.
So it comes as no surprise that Trump, who often traffics in parroting the loudest right-wing memes, would use this controversy to discredit and deflect Warren's comments.
Another fun day in the Donald Trump news cycle.
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.