President Donald Trump heaped praise on his administration in Las Vegas on Saturday during a freewheeling, campaign-style speech before the national leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition — an address that saw Trump pounce on Democrats and look to lift up the GOP ahead of elections in 2020.
“America is thriving, America is winning, winning, winning like never before,” Trump said. “We are respected again, we are respected again. It’s been a long time.”
His remarks came as part of a day-long program of Republican speakers, including Vice President Mike Pence and a handful of GOP congressmen, who gathered in a Venetian Hotel ballroom to hammer Democrats and boost Trump’s bid for re-election.
But the day’s speakers were dominated by the Trump keynote, which broadly touted White House victories on trade, taxes and Israel.
“The incredible bond between the United States and Israel will never be stronger than it is right now,” he said.
His speech was met by a friendly crowd, some adorned by cherry-red yarmulkes emblazoned with “TRUMP” on one side and the RJC logo on the other, others lifting signs saying “We Support President Trump” or “We Are Jews For Trump.”
Wearing one of the Trump yarmulkes was Sheldon Adelson, the CEO and chairman of Las Vegas Sands and Republican mega-donor who was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who had a front row seat. Adelson received his own praise from the president, who thanked the businessman and his wife, Miriam, for being there.
“I think that was the most important thing that ever happened in their lives,” Trump said to the couple, referring to his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “They love it.”
He also thanked his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is leading the Middle East peace process and was in the room, saying “peace in the Middle East — if they can’t do it, nobody can.”
His speech comes at a time when the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill have seized on Israel and anti-Semitism as wedge issues among Jewish voters, hoping to split some off from a Democratic Party they’ve labeled as anti-Semitic in the wake of controversial comments from Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar earlier this year.
On Saturday, those attacks continued.
“And with special thanks to Representative Omar of Minnesota,” Trump said jokingly to a chorus of boos. “Oh, oh I forgot, she doesn’t like Israel, I forgot. I’m so sorry. Oh she doesn’t like Israel, does she? My apologies.”
IIhan Omar, elected in 2018, tweeted in March that U.S. support for Israel was driven by lobbying dollars spent by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), tweeting “it’s all about the benjamins, baby.”
Those comments were widely condemned by her fellow Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, as anti-Semitic. Omar eventually apologized, tweeting again that she was “listening and learning, but standing strong.”
Omar is a Somali-American, first elected to public office as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016. She was the first naturalized citizen from Africa — and one of the first two Muslim women — ever elected to Congress.
Jewish voters have long been a staple of the Democratic Party, with about 67 percent of American Jews identifying as or leaning toward Democrats compared to 31 percent who identify as or lean toward Republicans, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
Trump also spent time attacking “stupid” existing U.S. trade deals, even going so far as to call out India by name.
“I have to be a little bit politically correct by saying it’s OK if we lose $20 billion with a country because we want to be nice, we want to be nice with everyone,” he said.
The visit by the president, his fourth to Las Vegas and fifth to Nevada since winning the presidency in 2016, comes at a tumultuous time for a Trump White House dealing with a bevy of setbacks in just a few short days.
On Wednesday, the powerful House Ways and Means Committee formally requested Trump’s tax returns, setting off what could be a lengthy legal battle over the president’s finances. The same day, the president denied having said any vote on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act would happen before the 2020 election, though he had tweeted the week before that legislative action was already underway.
On Thursday, Trump backed away from lingering threats to close the U.S.-Mexico border, instead giving Mexico one year to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S. from Central America. And on Friday, a third federal judge ruled the Commerce Department’s added citizenship question on the 2020 census was unconstitutional.
In Las Vegas, Trump minimized those criticisms, especially on the border dispute, instead calling the move a success.
“I have to tell you, Mexico has been great — first time, first time. A lot of these fakers back there say ‘he will never close the border,’” he said, pointing to the assembled media. “I will do anything to stop an invasion of our country. That’s what it is.”
He went on to say that Mexico has moved to intercept and deport thousands of Central American migrants before they could reach the U.S. border — something Mexican officials say hasn’t happened, at least not in any new capacity.
It wasn’t all positivity, though. Trump’s speech was briefly interrupted by a group of protesters, who cut into his introduction with a chant of “Jews are here to stay, occupation is a plague.” Those protesters — apparently criticizing the recent decision by Trump to recognize the disputed Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights — were shortly ushered out of the room as the crowd around them chanted “USA, USA, USA.”
Following his speech, Trump was seen off by casino magnate Steve Wynn, according to pool reporter Vivian Salama of the Wall Street Journal.
For a full log of every presidential election visit, including who visited, where and when, check our 2020 Presidential Candidate Tracker.