White House hopeful dogged by race row on Indian heritage

Elizabeth Warren, the new front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, hit the campaign trail yesterday, hoping to shake off criticism of her past claim to American Indian heritage that threatened to cast a shadow over her White House bid.

The Massachusetts senator, a top-tier contender for the nomination but facing an increasingly crowded Democrat field, immediately took aim at Donald Trump, who she said could be in jail come election day.

“By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president,” Ms Warren said. “In fact, he may not even be a free person.”

Ms Warren (69) travelled to the critical electoral state of Iowa less than 24 hours after launching her candidacy. In Cedar Rapids, she spoke of rebuilding the middle class through economic equality and challenging corporate wrongdoing.

“I want to be clear on this,” she said. “I’m not taking one thin dime of PAC money [campaign funds distributed by political action committees]. I’m not taking one thin dime of federal lobbyist money. And I’m not going out kissing up to a bunch of billionaires hoping they’ll fund a super PAC for me.”

Despite her unquestionable popularity, the progressive Democrat has been dogged by accusations that early in her career she misrepresented her heritage as American Indian to take advantage of affirmative action. She has denied such an intention.

With a crowded and talented field vying for the nomination – to which Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also officially joined late yesterday – the issue could be too big a hurdle for her to overcome.

In an interview on CNN, Liz Cheney, a Republican member of congress, said: “The notion that anybody of any political party would pretend that they were a member of a tribe or pretend they were Native American and would do it as she seems to have done it in order to get benefits, that is, in my view, the disgrace.”

Last week, Ms Warren apologised after the ‘Washington Post’ unearthed her handwritten registration for the State Bar of Texas on which she identified as “American Indian”. “I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted,” she said.

Last year, she released the results of a DNA test that showed distant American Indian lineage, six to 10 generations ago. But proof of that tenuous link did nothing to dampen the flames.

Mr Trump has homed in on Ms Warren’s assertion that she descends from the Cherokee nation, repeatedly calling her Pocahontas.

On Saturday, he was widely criticised for posting a joking reference to the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of American Indians to reservations in the 1800s. Thousands died of exposure, disease and starvation on the journey.

Shortly after Ms Warren declared, he wrote: “Will she run as our first Native American presidential candidate, or has she decided that after 32 years, this is not playing so well anymore? See you on the campaign TRAIL, Liz!”

Today the president travels to El Paso, Texas, for his first rally of 2019, as Beto O’Rourke, another potential presidential contender, joins an anti-wall march a kilometre away.

Yesterday it emerged that border security funding talks had stalled, with Mick Mulvaney, Mr Trump’s chief of staff, saying he “absolutely cannot” rule out another government shutdown.

The White House had asked for $5.7bn, a figure rejected by the Democrat-­controlled House of Representatives, and the mood among bargainers has soured, according to sources.

“You cannot take a shutdown off the table, and you cannot take $5.7bn off the table,” Mr Mulvaney told NBC, “but if you end up someplace in the middle, yeah, then what you probably see is the president say, ‘Yeah, OK, and I’ll go find the money someplace else.'”

A congressional deal seemed to stall even after Mr Mulvaney convened a bipartisan group of lawmakers at Camp David on Friday. While the two sides seemed close to clinching a deal late last week, significant gaps remained and momentum appears to have slowed.

The White House and many Republicans want to push the amount that would be spent for building physical barriers to $2bn or higher. Democrats have said they will keep that figure below $2bn, with some saying they support perhaps half that.

“I think talks are stalled right now,” Republican Senator Richard Shelby said.

But Mr Mulvaney did signal that the White House would prefer not to have a repeat of the last shutdown.

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