By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said there was a "Pocahontas" in the U.S. Congress on Monday during a meeting with Native American World War Two veterans in an apparent derogatory reference to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
After listening to one veteran speak at length about his experience as a "Navajo code talker" during the war, Trump heaped praise on the veterans and said he would not give prepared remarks himself.
"You were here long before any of us were here," Trump said. "Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas."
Trump repeatedly referred to Warren as "Pocahontas," the name of a famous 17th-century Native American, during his presidential campaign in a mocking reference to Warren's having said in the past that she had Native American ancestry.
Warren, one of the Senate's most prominent liberal Democrats, is a noted legal scholar who taught at Harvard Law School and served as an adviser to former President Barack Obama before she was elected to the Senate in 2012.
"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," Warren said on MSNBC.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders disputed the characterization of Trump's remark as a racial slur.
"I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career," Sanders told reporters.
Trump's comment immediately started trending on social media.
The word "Pocahontas" appeared 12 times on Twitter every second, according to social media analytics company Zoomph. Some of the words associated with Pocahontas were "insulting," "unfortunate" and "racist."
Some Twitter users also criticized the decision to have the Native Americans veterans positioned with Trump near a portrait of Andrew Jackson, who signed the Indian Removal Act as president.
Trump's knock at Warren comes as his administration faces a controversy over the Consumer Financial Protection Board, which Warren helped develop before entering politics.
The agency, which was established to protect Americans from abusive lending practices following the 2008 financial crisis, has been under attack by Trump since he took office in January. On Friday, Trump named his budget director as the interim head of the agency, after its outgoing chief named someone else to the job, setting up a court battle.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Angela Moon; Editing by Leslie Adler and Tom Brown)