He didn’t have to do it, but President Trump did it anyway.
There, in the White House, ostensibly honoring the contributions of the legendary Navajo code talkers who helped defeat Japanese Imperial forces in World War II, top-of-mind Trump did what he does best: he went off script, uttering what amounted to yet another cheap shot insult. And like others, it was aimed at a favorite political target at the expense of other people, in this case Native Americans.
Presidential apologist Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to assure reporters that it was not the president’s intent to use a racial slur, but that’s exactly how it was interpreted by many, including many Native Americans, when Trump called Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.”
He never said her name, but it was clear who the president was talking about. That’s because this isn’t the first time he’s attacked Warren, a former Harvard Law School professor who was accused by her Republican opponent in the 2012 election of falsely claiming Native American heritage to advance her career in academia. The claims, which the senator says are “untrue” and “hurtful,” have been neither disproved by Warren nor proven by her critics.
Here’s what Trump said during the ceremony:
“I just want to thank you because you are very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here,” according to CNN. “Although, we have a representative in Congress who has been here a long time … longer than you — they call her Pocahontas.”
Republican Party leaders blew off the criticism, saying the president’s remark was just a “joke,” according to The New York Times.
Russell Begaye, the president of the Navajo Nation and a critic of Warren, wasn’t laughing when he told The Times that Trump’s mention of Pocahontas at Monday’s ceremony was “derogatory” and “disrespectful to Indian nations.”
It was also something that’s he’s said several times before, something that wasn’t ever funny, just petty and mean-spirited.
“This is something that unfortunately came up during the campaign and it seems to have stuck in the mind of the president, something that he continues to use, to take a jab at the senator,” Begaye told The Times. “The campaign is over. The nation needs to move forward, and using Native Americans in this way, in this type of honoring setting is something that should not be happening.”
Though insulting, Trump’s recent comments were tame compared to other things he’s said about other powerful women.
“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man — he made a good decision,” Trump once tweeted about the Huffington Post founder.
On Rosie O’Donnell: “If I were running ‘The View,’ I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, I’d look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’”
On Hillary Clinton: “The only card [Hillary Clinton] has is the woman’s card. She’s got nothing else to offer and frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card, and the beautiful thing is, women don’t like her.”
On all women: “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Often mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential contender in 2016, Warren helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is currently being run by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. A longtime critic of CFPB, Mulvaney was picked by Trump to replace former director Richard Cordray. Cordray’s hand-chosen successor Leandra English, however, objected, claiming he president exceeded his authority. She filed for an injunction Monday, but was denied by a federal judge Tuesday.
Which brings us back to Monday’s event at the White House.
Jacqueline Pata, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, told The Times that she took great pride in honoring the code talkers. But, she said, “[I]t is unfortunate that it was used as an opportunity to once again try to use the word Pocahontas in a negative way towards a political adversary.”
Warren seemed resigned to what has become clear to anyone following this administration.
“It should have been a celebration of their incredible service, but Donald Trump couldn’t make it through without tossing in a racial slur,” said Warren.