Donald Trump, the anti-Washington insurgent, made a statement just by spending a full day in the nation’s capital — wrapping his arms around the city and its entrenched power class that he is asking to embrace him.
He’s got his work cut out for him.
Trump met with a small group of Republican members of Congress Monday afternoon that drew few politicians willing to be seen meeting with him beyond those who have already endorsed him. He used a press conference to show off the hotel he’s building a few blocks from the White House. And in a rare occurrence, Trump sat for a live television interview in the actual studio, answering Wolf Blitzer’s questions for 20 minutes.
But he also showed a degree of political dexterity that likely unnerves the establishment figures vowing to stand in his way. Turning the corner from slapstick to substance, Trump adopted a more presidential bearing in his prepared speech to the 20,000 attendees at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference Monday night, as he attempted to convince skeptics that his policy knowledge and commitment to Israel are deeper than they have often appeared.
Although the AIPAC attendees who filled the Verizon Center for his speech laughed at times, they also applauded and cheered. If there were protesters, they weren’t seen or heard from as Trump calmly offered a promise to repeal the “disastrous” nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran and to remain firmly on Israel’s side.
“We will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel,” Trump said, after walking back his past statements that he would seek to be neutral in serving as a dealmaker between Israel and Palestine.
“In Palestinian society, the heroes are those who murder Jews – we can’t let this continue,” Trump said. “You cannot achieve peace if terrorists are treated as martyrs. Glorifying terrorists is a tremendous barrier to peace.”
He went on, “In Palestinian textbooks and mosques, you’ve got a culture of hatred that has been fermenting there for years, and if we want to achieve peace, they’ve got to end this indoctrination of hatred. There is no moral equivalency. Israel does not name public squares after terrorists. Israel does not pay its children to stab random Palestinians.”
Trump, in delivering a more substantive, policy-heavy speech rather than his typical stream-of-consciousness riffs, is attempting to adopt a more presidential posture as he pivots to a potential general election matchup against Hillary Clinton. The likely Democratic nominee set the table for Trump in her own address to AIPAC Monday morning, warning that Trump’s foreign policy would “insult our allies, not engage them, and embolden our adversaries, not defeat them.”
“For the security of Israel and the world, we need America to remain a respected global leader, committed to defending and advancing the international order, an America able to block efforts to isolate and attack Israel,” Clinton said. “The alternative is unthinkable.”
Earlier in the day, Trump huddled with a small group of Republican lawmakers and other political leaders for more than an hour at the law firm of Jones Day, steps away from the Capitol building, where they discussed foreign policy, the Supreme Court and the need to unify the GOP behind Trump.
The meeting, which drew two dozen Republican officials, came just days after two separate groups of anti-Trump forces convened in Washington and Florida to plot how to deny the Republican frontrunner the nomination.
The handful of lawmakers who did attend – including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) – were mainly those who had already endorsed Trump or voted for him in a primary, although Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who also attended, is neutral in the race.
Jim DeMint and Newt Gingrich also took part in the meeting.
Many spoke of the emerging theme of unification of a party that was previously split between 17 GOP candidates and now is fractured over whether to fight or resign to Trump.
“The best way to unify the party is to win and win big,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told reporters after the meeting. “The great unifier is Hillary Clinton for the Republican Party, the need to defeat her. And the other unifier is, people get behind a winner, which is Mr. Trump.”
Speaking to reporters on his way inside, DesJarlais noted the irony of a GOP establishment that had pressured Trump to pledge last summer to support the party nominee that, now that Trump himself is winning, appears to be reneging. The Tennessee Republican, noting that Trumpwon more than 50 percent of voters in his home district, said it’s time for Republicans to unify. “The theme of the meeting is party unity, which we need,” he said.
Other Republicans were more careful in how they characterized their participation in the meeting. A spokesman for DeMint, a former South Carolina senator who now leads the Heritage Foundation, emphasized that the gathering was part of a series of meetings on policy he’s held with candidates.
Later in the day, Trump told reporters that the Heritage Foundation is helping him draw up a list of 10 potential Supreme Court appointees that he would choose from as president in the event of a vacancy on the nation’s highest court.
A spokeswoman for Cotton on Monday afternoon reinforced the idea that the senator has not endorsed. “Senator Cotton has remained neutral in the Presidential race and is focused on defeating either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the fall and is focused on keeping Republicans’ majority in the senate so that our armed forces have the resources they need,” the spokeswoman said.
No members of Senate leadership attended the meeting, which happened as the chamber was on recess. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn cited a scheduling conflict with his own AIPAC speech and said it was part of the “natural process” that the frontrunner would reach out to the Hill.
“I would hope that each of the presidential primary contenders would begin to reach out to Congress because obviously we’re going to have to work together if they’re fortunate enough to be the nominee and be elected,” Cornyn said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said he and the other lawmakers also doled out their own advice for Trump.
“What I said is securing the border is pretty simple, it’s actually not complicated, we’ve got it in San Diego. Trade, Mr. Trump knows trade very well. But national security is a different animal, in my opinion,” Hunter said. “You have to know the best ways to kill bad people. And that takes logistics, it takes planning, it takes building the right things — years, sometimes decades out — and then being able to employ those things and execute through the bureaucracy that is the Department of Defense. That was my little blurb.”
The scene was mobbed by reporters, who staked out every entrance, while a man with Our Principles PAC, the main anti-Trump group, handed out #NeverTrump stickers. The group also had a tracker shooting video of the Republicans entering Jones Day, the firm where Trump’s election lawyer, Donald McGahn, is a partner.
In another sign on Monday of Trump trying to assume the mantle of inevitable nominee, he revealed some of his foreign policy advisers ahead of his highly anticipated AIPAC speech.
In an editorial board session with the Washington Post in the morning, Trump named five of his advisers and said more would be announced soon.
Those named by Trump include counterterrorism expert Walid Phares; Carter Page, a long-time energy industry consultant; George Papadopoulos (“an oil and energy consultant. Excellent guy”); Joe Schmitz, a former inspector general at the Defense Department; Gen. Keith Kellogg, “and quite a few more,” Trump told the editorial board at the meeting in downtown Washington on Monday morning.
Sandwiched in between the mid-day meeting and his evening speech, Trump’s met his base—the media—for a 37-minute press conference at the unfinished atrium of his latest hotel project inside the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was, by far, the most surreal event of his whirlwind day in Washington.
With more than 200 members of the media seated on the unfinished concrete floor—it’ll be covered next week, Trump said, with “the finest marble”—beneath arching steel beams and the atrium’s glass ceiling, the GOP frontrunner began by touting the “super luxury” hotel set to open later this year that he promised would become “one of the great hotels in the history of the world.”
When he took questions, he got the expected inquiries about his earlier meetings, the Republican establishment’s ongoing effort to prevent him from winning the nomination and then, unexpectedly, one about the hotel itself. When Trump called on Alicia Watkins, a freelance blogger seated in the fifth row, she asked if there would be jobs at the hotel for veterans like her. Trump called her to approach the podium, asked her about her skills and told her after less than 30 seconds of conversation that he thought he’d be able to find her a job.
“I have gut instinct,” he explained a few moments later to another reporter. “She just seemed like a good person to me.”
During the 35 minutes of questions and answers, Trump told a religious blogger who said he “prays” that Trump taps Ben Carson as a running mate that his former rival was indeed under consideration. He referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “the Indian” and urged GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan to “embrace” the movement his campaign has started.
“If people want to be smart, they should embrace this movement,” Trump said. “And if they don’t want to be smart, they should do what they’re doing now and the Republicans will go down to a massive loss.”
“They certainly should be careful with third party stuff,” he continued, referencing reports that GOP leaders are considering running an establishment Republican as an independent in the fall, should they be unable to prevent him from winning their nomination.
“Third party means the Democrats are going to win. You can’t be that spiteful because it would destroy the country,” Trump said. “Third party would destroy the country.”
When he was leaving the podium, Trump thanked the media three times and then, just before walking away, seemed to remember the significance of the press conference and his other Washington project.
“Oh, the tour! Nobody asked about the hotel!” he shouted, noting he would lead reporters on a tour of the buildings “magnificent rooms, the ballroom.” Already, reporters were turning off their tape recorders and shuffling out. Of course, some followed him towards the elevators.
Seung Min Kim, Burgess Everett, and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.
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