Donald Trump made a detour to Washington on Wednesday to officially christen a downtown hotel bearing his name, less than two weeks before Election Day, one of dozens of times that the Republican presidential nominee has mixed his political candidacy with his personal business interests on the campaign trail.
Trump stood on a ballroom stage alongside three of his children who oversee his hotel projects at what was billed as the grand opening of Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the White House.
Aides insisted it was not a campaign event, but Trump’s commingling of his business interests and presidential aspirations was on clear display in and around the glitzy ballroom where he spoke. He railed against bloated military-hospital construction projects, blasted Obamacare price increases and congratulated former House speaker Newt Gingrich for sparring Tuesday night with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly in a contentious prime-time interview.
Trump bristled when asked afterward whether the event was an attempt to use his political candidacy to drum up free publicity for the hotel.
“For you to ask me that question is actually very insulting because Hillary Clinton does one stop, and then she goes home and sleeps,” Trump, 70, told CNN’s Dana Bash. “I want to back my children.”
Clinton, the Democratic nominee, marked her 69th birthday Wednesday with campaign stops in Florida. Her campaign also released two new television commercials it described as “closing arguments” to viewers in several battleground states, including one voiced by actor Morgan Freeman.
Traveling with José Andrés, the Washington-based celebrity chef who backed out of plans to build a restaurant at Trump’s Washington hotel, Clinton blasted Trump for hypocrisy in relying on foreign labor and goods for the project.
“While the hotel may be new, it’s the same old story,” Clinton told supporters in Lake Worth, Fla. “He relied on undocumented workers to make his project cheaper. Most of the products in the rooms were made overseas, and he even sued to get his taxes lowered. We know he’s used undocumented workers. And that’s one of the things he’s run his campaign on, about deporting undocumented workers.”
Interviews conducted by The Washington Post with construction workers at the Trump hotel last year found that the firm may have been relying on some undocumented workers. Several workers, who hail mostly from Central America, earned U.S. citizenship or legal status, while others acknowledged that they remained in the country illegally.
A staffer employed by the campaign put the finishing touches on the podium on stage. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a top Trump surrogate, was on hand and spoke to reporters about the campaign. Gingrich sat in the front of the room.
Speaking after daughter Ivanka, who has overseen the redevelopment of the Old Post Office building, Trump said the project “shows how to work with our government and to get things done. My theme today is five words: under budget and ahead of schedule. So important. We don’t hear those words too often in government — but you will.”
He noted afterward that he would campaign later in the day in North Carolina before visiting other battleground states.
It was one of many instances in which he has simultaneously promoted his business and political interests since announcing his presidential bid. The last time Trump held a major public event at his hotel in the District was last month, when he acknowledged for the first time that President Obama was born in the United States.
He has also met privately there with hotel employees and used the hotel for interviews and meetings with his foreign-policy team. NBC News reported Wednesday that Trump has made at least 32 visits to the site since its transformation began nearly two years ago.
On Tuesday, Trump staged a photo op with employees of his Trump National Doral golf resort near Miami and sought to speak both about campaign themes and his company. He also raised money at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday.
Over the summer, after he clinched the GOP nomination, Trump flew to Scotland to promote his golf courses there. He announced his campaign last year in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. He even put Trump-branded products on display at a campaign event in March.
But Trump’s holdings have suffered several setbacks. Andrés and a second restaurant tenant backed out of the Washington project, and room rates listed there in recent weeks are deeply discounted from the original planned prices. The Trump empire recently announced the launch of a new brand, Scion, that will replace the family name on some company properties going forward amid published reports that business at several properties has declined since Trump launched his campaign.
Trump vowed again on Wednesday that he will put $100 million of his own money into the campaign, adding that he is willing “to spend much more than that.”
“I’ll have over $100 million in the campaign,” he told CNN. “Hillary Clinton has nothing in the campaign. She’s all special interests and donors, and they give her the money, and then she will do whatever they tell her to do. But I will have over $100 million in the campaign, and I am prepared to go much more than that.”
However, the real estate developer has put in only $56 million so far, according to Federal Election Commission filings. On Tuesday, his national finance chairman declined to comment on when Trump planned to give the remainder of the money.
Top Republican Party officials on Wednesday asserted that the party’s ground operation — staffed by 3,100 paid organizers — is having a discernible impact on early voting in states such as North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin and Iowa.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the difference between the party’s organizing this year compared with 2012 is “pretty remarkable,” and added that it “will pay dividends for our party on all levels.”
“Because of the ground game, now we are seeing Democrats being taken down a notch in early voting,” he told reporters on a conference call.
Already, RNC organizers have knocked on more than 12 million doors — surpassing the 11.5 million the party’s field staffers contacted in the entire 2012 race, officials said.
Party officials said the operation to get out the vote for the entire GOP ticket would be “fully funded,” despite the Trump campaign’s decision to largely wind down high-dollar fundraisers in the final weeks of the campaign. The bulk of the proceeds from those events went to the RNC for its national voter mobilization effort. But RNC leaders, including Priebus, continue to raise money for the party, officials said.
Trump aides on Wednesday also denied a Reuters report that the operation is scaling back to focus on his chances for victory.
“Everybody here has a very workmanlike attitude,” Bill Palatucci, general counsel to Trump’s transition team, said in an interview.
After his Washington event, Trump traveled to North Carolina for a policy speech in which he called for a “new deal for black America,” including better schools, lower crime in inner cities and the creation of more high-paying jobs.
“I will be your greatest champion,” Trump said, addressing African Americans but speaking in front of a largely white audience in Charlotte. “I will never ever take the African American community for granted. Never, ever.”
On “The Breakfast Club” radio show Wednesday, Clinton was asked why she thinks the historic nature of her candidacy isn’t resonating more.
“I have tried to emphasize to people that, hey, just like President Obama was a really good president — and the fact that he was black, I think, was historic and unprecedented — but he also claimed and owned his excellence, and that’s why I’m saying, ‘Okay — I think it’s really exciting and historic that I would be the first woman president, but I have a lot of work I want to do.’ And I hope that people will say, ‘Hey, she’s getting it done.’ That’s how I think about it.”
Sullivan reported from Washington and Charlotte. Abby Phillip in Lake Worth and Matea Gold, Jonathan O’Connell and Elise Viebeck in Washington contributed to this report.