President Trump couldn't resist using his old nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren — "Pocahontas" — even at an event honoring Native American war heroes.
At what was supposed to be a simple ceremony, Trump stood in front of a painting of President Andrew Jackson, who signed the Indian Removal Act, with elderly veterans of the Navajo tribe.
He didn't end up giving a speech to honor the Code Talkers, implying that earlier remarks had already covered it all. But he did have time for his quip about the Massachusetts Democrat.
"You were here long before any of us were here," the president told the veterans. "Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas."
An awkward silence, unsurprisingly, followed.
Trump has frequently called Warren – who claims to have Native American heritage and has faced criticism for those claims – by the name Pocahontas, a reference to the daughter of a Native American chief in the 17th century.
Yet the formal setting for the unscripted jab drew immediate backlash, including Warren, who called the latest quip "deeply unfortunate."
The comment came during an event honoring the contributions of the Native American Code Talkers, who served with the Marine Corps during World War II. The Code Talkers used their native language to share coded messages at a time when the U.S. military desperately needed a code that the Japanese could not crack.
"This was supposed to be an event to honor heroes, people who put it all on the line for our country, and people, who because of their incredible work, saved the lives of countless Americans and our allies," Warren said. "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."
Sen. Ed Markey, Warren's fellow Democrat from Massachusetts, also described the president's words as a slur.
"What @realDonaldTrump said about my partner @SenWarren is a slur. It disparages the Native American war heroes, standing right beside the President, who risked their lives to protect his right to make such a disgusting comment," he said in a tweet.
What @realDonaldTrump said about my partner @SenWarren is a slur. It disparages the Native American war heroes, standing right beside the President, who risked their lives to protect his right to make such a disgusting comment.— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) November 27, 2017
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement that he didn't want to engage in the feud between Warren and Trump. But he acknowledged that "all tribal nations still battle insensitive references to our people."
"The prejudice that Native American people face is an unfortunate historical legacy," he said.
Social media users were quick to point out the exchange happened right underneath a portrait of President Jackson, who signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. The act allowed the president to negotiate with tribes to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi River in exchange for Native American lands within state borders. The act led to the forced march of the Trail of Tears.
By the way, Trump is insulting these Native veterans in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Natives by way of the Indian Removal Act & the Trail of Tears. He & his men made horse reins from Native skin.— Ruth H. Hopkins (@RuthHHopkins) November 27, 2017
Also note they are in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, who signed the Indian Removal Act Of 1830, paving the way for the Trail Of Tears.— David Poller (@PollerPhoto) November 27, 2017
In a press briefing after the event, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Monday that Trump's use of the "Pocahontas" nickname in this setting was not meant as a racial slur.
"What's offensive," Sanders said, is "Sen. Warren's lying about her heritage to advance her career." She added that she didn't think it was appropriate for anyone to make racial slurs.
"I think that Sen. Warren was very offensive when she lied about something specifically to advance her career," she said.
Trump's short remarks followed an introduction from Pete MacDonald, a WWII veteran and former chairman of the Navajo tribe.
The president asserted that because MacDonald's speech was so good that he no longer had to make one himself.
"What I'm going to do is give you my speech, and I want you to hold that, and I know you like me so you'll keep it," he said, per pool reports.
Later, Trump patted the arm of one of the Navajo Code Talkers being honored.
"You know what? I like you, because you're special."