Ayanna S. Pressley, a progressive Boston politician and the presumed representative for Massachusetts’s 7th Congressional District, spoke about Elizabeth Warren and sexual assault at a college media roundtable Wednesday.
Pressley defeated incumbent Michael E. Capuano in the September Democratic primary, and will run unopposed in November. She will become the first African American to represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives.
At the roundtable, Pressley discussed Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recent release of genetic analysis supporting her claim to distant Native American ancestry, a claim President Donald Trump has repeatedly mocked. Pressley said rhetoric surrounding Warren’s Native American ancestry deflects attention from more important conversations.
During Warren’s time as a professor at Harvard Law School, she claimed minority status. However, Warren insists she never used her Native American ancestry to further her career.
“She’s not ever claimed membership. She is simply proving ancestry, which is different,” Pressley said. “Her hand was ultimately forced to do that to defend herself. But this is something that Trump does very well. This is a complete distraction, just like his birther argument around Barack Obama. It’s a distraction from the real issues.”
When asked if she believed it was politically smart for Warren — a likely 2020 presidential candidate — to release her DNA test results just weeks before the midterm elections, Pressley said she has not heard voters care about the issue.
“I’ve been on the ground in some of these other states, and when I'm spending time with people on their front porches, or around their living rooms, or at early vote polling locations in Georgia, for example, no one is talking about this,” she said. “This is some...very small universe of people, it’s been my experience, that are hyper-focused on this.”
Also during the discussion, Pressley said while in Congress, she would work to secure funding for anti-sexual violence organizations at the local level.
“I want to caution us, because I think with national movements like Enough Is Enough and Time's Up and Me Too that you can be so connected to the national part of it, but the work is going to happen on the local level in cities and states,” she said.
“What I will be fighting for [at] the federal level is an investment in those organizations doing that work, because more people are disclosing now than ever before. But organizations like the Victim Rights Law Center don’t have the pro-bono legal counsel to support these survivors in getting the justice they deserve," she added.
During her time on the Boston City Council, Pressley disclosed that she was raped in college. She has also previously said she survived childhood sexual abuse. Pressley addressed her experiences during the discussion.
“I’ve worked on a lot of polarizing, controversial, third rail issues, but the first time I received hate mail was when I disclosed I was a survivor of campus sexual assault,” she said. “I don’t regret having disclosed, because it is a transcendent issue. It is pervasive. It does not discriminate. And every day someone approaches me in a restroom, at a fancy fundraiser, in the halls of City Hall, walking the street, to say thank you for telling your story, it is my story too.”
—Staff writer Andrew J. Zucker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewJZucker.