WASHINGTON (CN) – Holding court at his new D.C. digs, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump warned Republicans on Monday to rally around him.
“It’s very simple,” Trump told the audience of about 100 reporters at the old Post Office , acquired by the reality-television star in 2014. “I have more votes than anybody.”
Trump cited his status as an “outsider” as to why the Republican Party has yet to throw its full weight behind him.
“If people want to be smart, they should embrace this movement,” he said, calling a bluff on leading Republicans, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who have spoken publicly against him.
Insisting that Ryan called him last week, and “couldn’t have been nicer,” Trump said he believes Republican opposition is a political ploy.
“People really do want to be a part of it,” he said, noting that “there’s something amazing that’s happening” with the number of first-time voters turning out for him.
Trump expressed confidence that he will clinch the Republican nomination.
“We should make it pretty easily based on what I’m seeing,” he said.
Trump promised to strengthen trade, education and health care, and to rebuild the “decimated” U.S. military – areas his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton will be weak on – but he offered no specifics.
Though jumping from question to question, Trump lingered on the issue of Supreme Court justice nominations under the next administration.
“This country is in big, big trouble if Democrats win and appoint liberal justices,” he said.
Trump indicated that he is working in conjunction with conservative D.C. think tank the Heritage Foundation to compile a list of seven to 10 judges of possible Supreme Court nominees.
“I want a conservative, very good group of judges,” he said. “I’m not appointing a liberal judge.”
Shortly after the press conference began, Trump called on a woman who asked if he would hire veterans at his new luxury hotel, which is under construction in the old Post Office Pavilion, and set to open in September.
Trump summoned her up, shook her hand and asked her to tell reporters about her experience, after which offered her a job.
“If we can make a good deal on the salary she’s probably going to have a job,” Trump said.
When later asked why he would take a risk on a stranger, Trump said, “I felt good about her,” after which she teared up.
“Look at that with the tears,” he said. “I have instincts about people,” Trump added.
After the press conference, the woman identified herself as Maryland resident Alicia Watkins, a formerly homeless Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a network engineer, and said she survived the Sept. 11 attacks.
Watkins told reporters that she supports Trump, but had never met him before. She said writes freelance pieces for veteran organizations and veteran-centered blogs for troopsmedia.com, but the website appears to be under construction.
Trump was set to speak at the annual America-Israel Public Affairs Committee conference Monday evening, where a group of pro-Palestinian protestors organized by anti-war group Codepink denounced him with chants of “dump Trump.”
Several dozen protestors lined the sidewalk outside the Verizon Center chanting slogans and holding signs reading “Stop AIPAC,” “Stop Racism” and “Stop Hate,” as attendees made their way into the conference to hear Trump speak.
The protestors condemned Israeli settlements and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, to which some AIPAC attendees responded with chants of “long live Israel” in Hebrew.
I. Cohen, a 15-year-old old D.C. resident watching the protestors intently, said he has visited Israel twice and had his bar mitzvah there.
Waving several small Israeli flags back and forth, Cohen said his great-grandfather, Si Kenen, founded the early incarnation of AIPAC, the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs. He said he agrees with AIPAC’s overall message but not necessarily everything the organization represents.
For example, he said he does not agree with outlawing the boycott divestment and sanctions movement, which seek to put economic and political pressure on Israel to end the occupation. Opponents of the movement say it seeks to delegitimize Israel.
Cohen said Israel’s ban against boycotters of its state or settlements makes sense there, but cautioned against trying to criminalize the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in the United States, seeing that as “unconstitutional.” He clarified that while he does support the two-state solution, he does not support the boycott movement in any way.
“Banning it is not OK,” he added.
In terms of what the group does well, Cohen said the strengthening of the relationship with the U.S. is important to him. “It’s comforting to know America is there for Israel,” he said.
But he had few nice words for the protesters.
“They are uneducated,” Cohen said of the pro-Palestinian protesters. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re incorrect.”
That was a sentiment expressed by several attendees as they passed by the protestors, but one that Codepink organizer Medea Benjamin rejected outright.
“We probably have more PhD’s in this crowd right here than in the whole country. It’s a super-educated group of people,” Benjamin said.
Donning a shirt that read, “free hugs: arms are for hugging,” Benjamin several times offered hugs and extended her hand to conference attendees, interactions she said she strives for during protests.
“I love that, that’s what we’re all about,” she said of the moments when dialogue between adversaries happens.
“When anything gets very tense, we start singing,” she said, which the group did several times, including when about 10 of the protesters sat on the sidewalk, blocking the flow of conference attendees.
Though the group focused much of their efforts on condemning AIPAC, Benjamin said Codepink felt compelled to protest Trump’s presence at the conference.
“Trump has really been fomenting violence in this country, fomenting hatred,” Benjamin said, recalling his statements decrying Mexicans as rapists and Muslims as dangerous people that he proposed temporarily barring from entering the country.
“This is a country that is built on immigrants. This is a country that has traditionally opened up its welcoming arms to immigrants,” Benjamin said. “I mean the Statue of Liberty is right there at the entrance to the harbor in New York. That’s the kind of country that many of us want to live in and that’s the opposite of what Donald trump is preaching.”
Palestinian Iyad Burnat, who organizes weekly nonviolent demonstrations in the West Bank village of Bilin, joined the protesters as well. He said he came to condemn AIPAC and the $3.5 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Israel that supports the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land.
“I came to stand with people who give us more hope to continue our struggle,” Burnat said, adding that despite the expansion of Israeli settlements and the failed peace process, Palestinians still have hope.
“We always have hope,” he said. “When we see our kids, they give us more hope. When we see our friends standing with us everywhere in the world, they give us more hope to continue. We never give up. We will continue our struggle until our freedom.”
“Palestine is my life,” Burnat added. “It’s my history. It’s my children’s future.”
- Crime-Spree Player Fails to Secure 9th Circuit Relief
- SCOTUS Questions Standing in Va. Redistricting Fight