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Billionaire dodges when asked if "tribalism" tweet referred to Elizabeth Warren's heritage

Former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein played coy when asked whether his recent tweet accusing Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren of "tribalism" was a reference to her Native American heritage.

Appearing on CNBC on Tuesday, the billionaire compared himself to an "impressionist painter" after being asked directly why he tweeted last week that "Maybe tribalism is just in her DNA" when he criticized her plans to target the country's ultra-rich with higher taxes.

"It's like looking at a piece of impressionist art," Blankfein replied. "You ask yourself, 'What is the artist thinking?' It's really for you to take away."

Politico called the former Wall Streeter's tweet mocking, while others have been more direct in calling it a slur. As his comment drew scrutiny, Blankfein told CNBC he is ready to "bury the hatchet" with Warren, using another phrase that some might take as a veiled reference to her ethnicity. 

A number of billionaires have personally attacked Warren of late. The Massachusetts senator has proposed imposing a 2% wealth tax on Americans who are worth more than $50 million and an additional 3% levy on those worth more than $1 billion. Blankfein, who Forbes said was worth $1.1 billion in mid-2017, would owe more than $30 million a year in taxes under Warren's proposal.

Last week, the Warren campaign aired an ad that blasted a number of billionaires, including Blankfein and the hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman. "We don't need another fabricator in the White House," Cooperman said on CNBC last week. Warren's ad noted Cooperman had previously been charged with insider trading. "She's disgraceful. I've given away more in the year than she has in her whole [expletive] lifetime."

Cooperman in 2018 paid a $5 million fine to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges for insider trading.

The link between taxes and inequality 01:30

Blankfein, who earned $24 million last year at Goldman Sachs, said on CNBC Tuesday he feels a "lack of appreciation" for Wall Streeters and their importance to the economy. He also pushed back on the idea that CEOs are overpaid, blaming low interest rates and technological change for the widening gap between rich and poor in the U.S. Blankfein said income inequality should be addressed, but said it wasn't as big a economic problem as others have made out. 

As for Warren's wealth tax, Blankfein said he thought it was a bad idea because it would be too hard to implement. "It's completely unworkable," he said. "It takes years to settle an estate. How is a farmer going to mark-to-market the value of his land."

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