Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren used to briskly walk through the Capitol and ignore reporters – often with an aide by her side shielding her from questions. She used to resist engaging on issues and controversies beyond ones that launched her political career – like railing against income inequality and big banks.
And she used to have few answers about her Native American ties despite questions that have lingered since her 2012 Senate campaign.
Those days are over.
As she prepares for a potential 2020 run, Warren has taken a series of steps shifting her political and public relations efforts – culminating in the Monday release of a carefully produced, campaign-style video showcasing her family roots and releasing a DNA test that shows she had at least a fraction of Native American blood dating back generations.
Warren aides said Monday that the release of the video – along with a new website pushing back against President Donald Trump’s attacks against her – is not an isolated move. In addition to putting to rest questions about her ethnicity, aides said, she wants the public to learn more about her career, family roots and personal life. And in recent weeks she’s released 10 years of tax returns, disclosed personnel files from her time as a law professor at Harvard and other schools, and cooperated with a Boston Globe investigation that concluded her Native American ties were not a factor during a rise in her career.
The goal, aides said, was to show she has nothing to hide – but also to broaden her appeal beyond a fiercely liberal, anti-Wall Street image that has dominated much of her career.
“I used my mama’s grit to get through commuter college and law school,” Warren said in the Monday video, showing her meeting with her siblings in a middle-class home in Oklahoma. “I used my daddy’s relentless optimism when I was balancing babies and books. But my background played no role in my hiring.”
The Massachusetts Democrat’s decision to release the findings may not remove all suspicions about her heritage and whether she used it to advance her career – especially since her chief antagonist, Trump, has used the issue like a blunt object against her and ridiculed her Monday for having a tiny fraction of Native American blood, which a genealogist said dates back anywhere from six to 10 generations in her family.
“She owes the country an apology,” Trump chided her Monday as he toured hurricane damage in Warner Robins, Georgia. “What is the percentage? 1/1000.”
Still, the results do give the senator some scientific proof to point to in an attempt to take the issue off the table in a Democratic primary. In large part, Democratic strategists say, the move could also help defuse questions about her electability among Democratic voters worried that Trump could launch ferocious attacks – denigrating her as “Pocahontas” – that could derail a general election campaign.
Some Democrats questioned the timing, three weeks before the November 6 midterm elections, when most of the political world is focused on what will happen to the balance of power in Congress. A Warren aide said the timing was dictated in part because the test results came back Friday.
But others thought the timing made sense, quickly addressing the heritage question before the presidential election starts in earnest soon after the November midterms.
David Axelrod, a former political adviser to President Barack Obama who is now a CNN contributor, said in a tweet that the “extraordinary” video is proof Warren will run for president and is concerned the Native American issue could hurt if not put to rest.
“It says: 1)@SenWarren is 100% running. 2)She thinks the Pocahontas crap is a potential problem. 3)She wants to dispose of it now, lest she be Birtherized. The risk I’m sure she considered? This elevates it.”
Not fully settled by the release is to what extent her Native American heritage may have helped her land key teaching posts at University of Pennsylvania and Harvard – something Republicans continued to argue Monday.
But that question appears to have been resolved by an investigative Boston Globe story last month that showed her heritage didn’t impact her getting hired or advancing in her career.
“My family is my family, but the Boston Globe conducted an enormously thorough investigation and determined that my family’s background had nothing to do with my being hired anywhere ever,” Warren told CNN.
She also said she didn’t deal with the issue when it was first raised in 2012 because she didn’t have the “basic information” about her bloodlines, though it lingered for years.
“I was a first-time candidate back in 2012 and, frankly, just didn’t have this basic information,” she said.
Warren made the comments to CNN last month just before she answered a wide range of reporter questions on other issues of the day – like reports of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussing wearing a wire in conversations with Trump – a notable shift.
This story has been updated.