Trump welcomed three Navajo code talkers from World War II to the Oval Office. He called them “incredible” and “very special people.”
And then he added: “We have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas. But you know what, I like you.”
The Republican president has repeatedly mocked the Massachusetts senator for claims she has made about being part Native American.
Native American leaders have called Trump’s past attacks on Warren offensive and distasteful. Some Democrats have called the remark racist.
Warren quickly denounced Trump’s comments.
“This was supposed to be an event to honor heroes, people who put it all on the line for our country, who, because of their incredible work, saved the lives of countless Americans and our allies,” Warren said in an interview on MSNBC. “It is deeply unfortunate that the president of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a racial slur “was certainly not the president’s intent.”
The president has long feuded with Warren, an outspoken Wall Street critic who leveled blistering attacks on Trump during the campaign. He has seized in particular on questions about her heritage, which surfaced during her 2012 Senate race challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown.
During that campaign, law school directories from the Association of American Law Schools from 1986 to 1995 surfaced that put Warren on the association’s list of “minority law teachers” when she was teaching at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania. Warren said she listed herself with Native American heritage because she hoped to meet people with similar roots.
In a 2012 interview with The Associated Press, Warren said she and her brothers were told of the family’s heritage by their parents, the late Don and Pauline Herring.
Brown pressed Warren to release more information about how she described her heritage to potential employers. Warren said she never sought proof of ancestry because she didn’t think it was necessary.
Sanders said Monday that Warren was the offensive one when “she lied about something specifically to advance her career.”
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, issued a statement to the Journal reacting to Trump’s comments during the ceremony.
“The president should study his history,” Udall said. “The Native American Code Talkers are true war heroes whose patriotism and honor during World War II helped ensure our victory against oppression and hatred. The Code Talkers gave back to their country by sharing their language even though they were born into a nation that often denied them their most basic civil rights and even when they faced bigotry and injustice in their own lands. Donald Trump’s racist joke – during Native American Heritage Month no less – demeaned the contributions that the Code Talkers and countless other Native American patriots and citizens have made to our great country. This moment in history won’t overshadow the contribution the Code Talkers made and continue to make to our nation. But racist comments like that are never acceptable, and are in especially poor taste against the backdrop of Andrew Jackson’s portrait. The days when the President of the United States was held as a moral authority around the world were over 11 months ago, but at what should have been a solemn ceremony to honor Native veterans, Donald Trump took low even lower.”