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Israel ‘never had a better friend in the White House,’ Trump says in FL

President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 2, 2017. (Shealah Craighead/White House)

With Democrats drawing up articles of impeachment on Capitol Hill, a brash and confident President Donald Trump took a day trip to South Florida Saturday, where in separate events he helped the Republican Party of Florida raise millions of dollars and declared himself the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House.

Trump, speaking during a closed-door speech to Republican Party of Florida donors and politicians at the state party’s annual Statesman’s Dinner in Aventura, cracked jokes about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to attendees. At one point, he brought on-stage two service members whom he controversially pardoned last month from charges of war crimes.

From there, his motorcade traveled to Hollywood, where during a keynote speech to a national conference on Israeli-American relations he ripped former President Barack Obama, crowed about killing the leader of ISIS and told the story of how he says his administration came to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy to the city.

“The Jewish state has never had a better friend in the White House than your president, Donald J. Trump,” Trump said during the Israeli-American Council National Summit, held at the Diplomat Beach Resort Hollywood.

Trump’s visit to South Florida Saturday afternoon came amid a flurry of activity, with the president juggling diplomat efforts involving the Korean Peninsula, the fallout from a fatal shooting Friday by a Saudi national at Pensacola Naval Air Station, and the ongoing impeachment proceedings in Washington.

As Trump prepared to leave for South Florida, the House Judiciary Committee released a report Saturday outlining the “constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment.” Around the same time, the White House announced a prisoner swap with Iran in which the U.S. released an Iranian scientist in exchange for a Princeton University graduate student who was imprisoned in Tehran three years ago on suspicions of espionage.

Amid all that activity, the president flew into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport late in the afternoon and was whisked by a motorcade to the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry in Aventura, where the Republican Party of Florida held its largest fundraiser of the year. The event was held with some unusual secrecy: the state party declined until about 48 hours before the event to tell ticket-holders where the dinner would be held, and attendees with cell phones were forced to give them up before Trump’s speech. Reporters were not permitted to attend.

People who spoke to the Miami Herald afterward likened parts of Trump’s speech to his Twitter feed, where he’s called the impeachment inquiry “a sham” and a witch hunt.”

“Ever since I came down the elevator to announce [my candidacy], [Democrats] have been after me,” Trump said, according to people in the audience.

From Aventura, Trump’s motorcade traveled up State Road A1A past supporters recording with cell phones, some holding American flags, to Hollywood, where he gave a speech on Israel to the Israeli-American Council that ran longer than a half-hour.

Trump began his speech by condemning the Friday shooting Friday in Pensacola. He also called Iran the world’s biggest sponsor of terror, and crowed about the killing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State. He touted his own overtures to Israel to loud cheers, criticized “far left members of Congress” for using “anti-Semitic rhetoric,” and repeatedly criticized President Barack Obama, though the event was held by a non-partisan organization.

“So many of you voted for people in the last administration,” Trump said, in a nod to the liberal leanings of the U.S. Jewish community. “Someday you’ll have to explain that to me because I don’t think they like Israel too much.”

The Israeli-American Council, a non-partisan organization primarily funded by Sheldon Adelson, one of the Republican Party’s biggest donors, aims to forge better relationships between the U.S. and Israel. Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, appeared with Trump on stage. Miriam Adelson praised Trump for changed longstanding U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and supporting Israeli settlements in occupied territories of Golan Heights and the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now wants the U.S. to support an annexation of the Jordan Valley, a topic the embattled Israeli leader says he discussed Sunday with Trump and Wednesday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“Where his predecessors promised, this president has delivered,” Miriam Adelson said during a speech introducing Trump. “President Trump has already gone down in the annals of Jewish history, and that is before he has even completed his first term in office.”

Trump reiterated Saturday that he wants to negotiate peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but critics worry his actions have dashed all hopes of that happening. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution along party lines Friday, with Democrats supporting a two-state solution that would establish an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel, but Trump hasn’t supported such a solution.

“A lot of people say it can’t be done. It’s the toughest of all deals,” said Trump, who then gave an attaboy to his son-in-law, whom he has tasked with negotiating a Middle East deal. “If Jared Kushner can’t do it, it can’t be done.”

After the event, Trump drove back to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport, where he took off to return to Washington.

Trump’s visit to South Florida was at least his third since early October, around the time he filed paperwork to declare his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach as his full-time residence. Trump held a belated “homecoming” rally late last month in Sunrise.

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement ahead of Trump’s visit Saturday that Floridians don’t want him “because he has threatened seniors’ Medicare and Social Security, rolled back environmental protections needed to preserve our state’s natural treasures and made it harder for working families to get by in our state.”


© 2019 Miami Herald