Trump, in campaign break, resumes old job as businessman

AP News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2016 6:46 PM
Trump, in campaign break, resumes old job as businessman

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump made a rare appearance in Washington on Monday to try to shore up support from a skeptical Republican establishment, deliver a highly-anticipated speech to a major pro-Israel lobby — and, while he was at it, boast about the new luxury hotel he's building in town.

Trump, under political attack from all sides of the political spectrum, stepped away from the campaign trail for hours to return to his day job, touring and touting his renovations of a landmarked Washington building that will soon be site to his latest glitzy namesake hotel.

Gone were the standard "Make America Great Again" podium plaques and red campaign baseball cap he often adorns. At an event organized by campaign aides, the billionaire businessman spoke at a podium labeled "Trump Hotels," with renderings of the hotel's palatial future ballroom, guest rooms and other spots flanking him on both sides.

After fielding a range of questions from whether the U.S. should be offering foreign aid to Israel to effective Supreme Court picks, the candidate — apparently disappointed he hadn't received more inquiries about hotel — whisked a crush of reporters on a madcap tour of Washington's Old Post Office Pavilion, calling notice to some of his favorite features to the trailing mob.

"Take a look at this," he told reporters, pointing to the windows, as members of his Secret Service unit struggled to keep some semblance of space around the candidate. The tour then moved to a ballroom — "one of the biggest ballrooms in Washington and by far the most luxurious," he'd said earlier — seemingly fit for an Inaugural ball.

"It's being sealed-up now," he said, playing the part of real estate developer once more. "All the work has been done, as you see the ducts have been put in, all of the electric has been put in."

Trump also appeared to make an impromptu addition to the hotel staff.

During his press conference, a woman asked Trump about a job at the hotel and the candidate waved her to the podium. He then suggested that if they could agree upon a salary, she'd be brought on board. He did not, however, break out his reality television catchphrase "You're hired!"

She hugged him and kissed him on the cheek before being whisked away by one of Trump's associates.

The Republican front-runner said his "gut instinct" told him that the woman — who later identified herself as Alicia Watkins of Maryland — would be a good hire.

The episode was the latest example of the master marketer's increasing tendency to intermingle his campaign with his business ventures, leveraging the attention he's attracted on the campaign trail to boost his brand.

In recent weeks, Trump has held multiple events on his various Florida properties, including his Mar-a-Lago club in West Palm Beach and a duo of nearby golf courses. At one election night press event, he felt compelled to have his staff display numerous Trump-branded products, including bottles of still and sparkling wine from a family-owned vineyard bearing his name.

But mentioned most often is the hotel project, which Trump has repeatedly touted as evidence of the kind of thinking he'll bring to the White House. The project, he likes to brag, is on budget and scheduled to be completed in September — two years ahead of schedule, he says. It also gives him the option of living on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, regardless of whether or not he ends up in the White House.

Trump spent the beginning of the press conference touting the project, which will employ 500 people, feature 300 "super luxury" guest rooms and sport a lobby floor that would be "covered in marble, beautiful marble from different parts of the world."

"We want to make this one of the great hotels in the world and I think it's coming out that way. I think you're going to be very proud of it, the country will be very proud of it," he said.

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Lemire contributed to this report from New York.