SIOUX CITY, Iowa — It was the first question from the audience here at just the second stop on the presidential bid she had launched earlier this week.
“Sen. Warren,” said a woman in the crowd Saturday morning. “My question to you: Why did you undergo the DNA testing and give Donald Trump more fodder to be a bully?”
“Yeahhh, well,” the senator began.
There was some laughter as Elizabeth Warren, midway through a three-day tour through the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, tried to tackle a question that has been dogging her presidential campaign months before it even began: the DNA test she made public in October, weeks before a critical midterm election for Democrats, to prove what she described as “Native American ancestry” tied to the Cherokee Nation, a federally recognized tribe of 350,000 based in Warren’s home state of Oklahoma.
The test found Warren’s ancestry was mostly European, but also that she most likely had a Native American ancestor some 6–10 generations ago.
To the disbelief of Democratic strategists, Warren did not contact or consult leaders from the Cherokee Nation before releasing the DNA test, which was criticized by tribal leaders as “inappropriate and wrong.”
Here in Iowa, a state named for the Ioway Tribe and which is now home to more than 14,000 Native Americans, Warren seemed prepared to address the question, though she did not express any regret over the way she and her aides handled the test.
“I’m glad you asked that question. I genuinely am, and I’m glad for us to have a chance to talk about it,” she said.
“I am not a person of color,” she continued. “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.”
That a voter raised the question herself suggests Warren’s ancestry is an issue that has extended far beyond the Washington- and New York–based press — thanks, in part, to President Trump’s repeated references to Warren as “Pocahontas.”
Just this Thursday, the president shared a graphic on Twitter from the conservative website the Daily Wire, mocking Warren’s DNA test.
Warren told the crowd in Sioux City that as a young girl in Oklahoma, “like a lot of folks in Oklahoma, we heard family stories of our ancestry.”
It wasn’t until her first run for office, during her 2012 Senate campaign in Massachusetts, she said, that “Republicans honed in” on the fact that she had self-identified as Native American while a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.
“A lot of ugly stuff,” she said of the Republican attacks. “And so my decision was, I’m just gonna put it all out there. Took a while, but just put it all out there.”
“It’s out there — it’s online. It’s all there.”
“Now, I can’t stop Donald Trump,” she added. “I can’t stop him from hurling racial insults. I don’t have the power to do that.”
“Yes you can!” a woman yelled to applause.
“But what I can do is I can be in this fight for all of our families,” Warren said, quickly pivoting to the message she has driven here again and again during her first presidential campaign swing, which is set to continue with a series of events this weekend in Storm Lake, Des Moines, and Ankeny.
“Ultimately what 2020 is going to be about is not about my family,” she said. “It’s about the tens of millions of families across this country who just want a level playing field.”