House Dem: Warren response on heritage 'like water torture'

Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D) has badly botched questions surrounding her Native American heritage and the issue is damaging her campaign, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) told The Hill.

"There has to be an answer for this at some point, something that's full and comprehensive and has some closure to it as opposed to the way it's been dragged out — like water torture," Lynch said late Thursday afternoon.

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Asked if Warren and her campaign should put out all the information to put the story to bed, Lynch said "they probably should have done that probably four weeks ago."

"I think you just need to get it out there, lay your cards out on the table and then you can move on," he said. "But feeding a little bit of information every week or so, that's just keeping it going and it's taken on a life of its own at this point. If they want it to go away they need to address it. They can't pretend it's not there which is the approach they've been taking thus far."

Warren has been plagued for weeks by questions about whether she has Native American heritage, and whether that helped her get a job at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. The ongoing story has been the main focus of the campaign for more than a month, with new details emerging on a regular basis.

"Elizabeth Warren is focused on the issues important to Massachusetts families who are getting hammered," Warren campaign spokeswoman Alethea Harney told The Hill when asked about Lynch's criticism.

"She's fighting for a level playing field, while Scott Brown is standing up for Wall Street, big oil and special interests.  Elizabeth will continue to focus on what's important to working families."

Lynch has long been an irritant to other Democrats. In 2010, he infuriated House Democratic leaders by calling their parliamentary moves to pass healthcare reform "disingenuous" before voting against the bill despite entreaties from President Obama and former Sen. Ted Kennedy's (D-Mass.) widow, Victoria.

The congressman complimented Warren's credentials to be senator, but warned that voters just getting to know her are hearing first and foremost about this story.

"It is her [whole] campaign right now," he said when asked if the story had turned into a major distraction.

"That's all I hear people talking about. They're not talking about the fact that she is a bona fide consumer advocate, they're talking about this stuff. You hope that the narrative of your campaign will be one that showcases your strengths, and she has a lot of strengths. She does. I've seen her work firsthand, and we're not getting to that because she's not getting past this issue."

Warren acknowledged Wednesday night that she'd told both schools that she was Native American, providing more fuel to the story, but insisted that she did so after she was hired. Until then, she'd avoided saying that she'd told the schools of her heritage.

Warren has faced more than a month of questions about whether she actually has Native American blood, and whether Harvard and Penn used her to inflate statistics about how many minority professors they had tenured – at a time when both were under fire for a lack of diversity on their staffs.

Warren said she was proud of her heritage, which has been part of her family lore for generations. The Democrat said initially she had listed herself as Native American in faculty directories in hopes of meeting others like her.

She cited her grandfather’s high cheekbones as a reason her family believed it had native blood.

Meanwhile, genealogists tasked with charting her ancestry found no solid evidence that any of her relatives were Native American.

A recent poll showed no evidence that the story has hurt Warren. Despite most voters having heard something about the story, Warren and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) were tied in the poll. 

Lynch predicted a close race, and said this issue could affect the outcome.

"First impressions are lasting impressions. So for a new candidate, a first-time candidate, it's very important that she is able to tell her whole story and this is a big distraction," he said. "It could hurt her in the fall."