WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Trump was not using a racial slur when he derisively referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as “Pocahontas” during a White House ceremony to honor World War II Navajo Code Talkers.
Trump delivered his remarks, with two of the Native American veterans standing at his side and a third seated in a wheelchair, today underneath his office portrait of former President Andrew Jackson, who was responsible for the 1830 Indian Removal Act and “Trail of Tears” that Native leaders have said amounted to ethnic cleansing.
There are 13 surviving Navajo Code Talkers, who used their native language for code that couldn’t be broken by the enemy in the Pacific Theater.
“The 13 of us, we still have one mission — that mission is to build national Navajo Code Talker Museum,” said former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald, 90, who is currently president of the Code Talkers veterans group. “We want to preserve this unique World War II history for our children, grandchildren, your children, your grandchildren to go through that museum.”
“Why? Because what we did truly represents who we are as Americans. America, we know, is composed of diverse community. We have different languages, different skills, different talents, and different religion. But when our way of life is threatened, like the freedom and liberty that we all cherish, we come together as one. And when we come together as one, we are invincible. We cannot be defeated,” MacDonald added. “That’s why we need this national Navajo Code Talker Museum so that our children, the future generation, can go through that museum and learn why America is so strong.”
Trump told the veterans, “I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people.”
“You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who, they say, was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas,'” he said. There wasn’t any reaction in the room.
“But you know what, I like you because you are special. You are special people,” Trump continued. “You are really incredible people. And from the heart, from the absolute heart, we appreciate what you’ve done, how you’ve done it, the bravery that you displayed, and the love that you have for your country.”
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement that the tribe wants no part of Trump and Warren’s feud and the day was supposed to be about the Code Talkers who “ensured the freedom of the United States.”
“In this day and age, all tribal nations still battle insensitive references to our people. The prejudice that Native American people face is an unfortunate historical legacy,” Begaye said. “As Native Americans, we are proud people who have taken care of this land long before there was the United States of America and we will continue to fight for this Nation.”
Warren told MSNBC that “this was supposed to be an event to honor heroes, people who put it all on the line for our country.”
“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,” the senator said.
Sanders told reporters at the daily briefing that Warren “was very offensive when she lied about something specifically to advance her career — I don’t understand why no one’s asking about that question and why that isn’t constantly covered.”
She said the senator calling it a racial slur was “a ridiculous response.”
“I think the president certainly finds an extreme amount of value and respect for these individuals, which is why he brought them and invited them to come to the White House and spent time with them, recognizing them and honoring them today,” Sanders said. “So I think he is constantly showing ways to honor those individuals, and he invited them here at the White House today to meet with them and to also remind everybody about what the historic role that they played many years ago.”
“Why is it appropriate for the president to use a racial slur in any context?” one reporter asked.
“I don’t believe that is appropriate for him to make a racial slur or anybody else,” Sanders replied. “…I don’t think that it is and I don’t think — that was certainly not the president’s intent.”