- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2016

Just when you think the 2016 presidential race can’t get more surreal, Donald Trump reprised his role from the hit realty TV show “The Apprentice” at Washington press conference Monday and plucked an unemployed veteran out of the audience for an impromptu job interview.

Instead of his catchphrase “you’re fired,” Mr. Trump told the previously homeless black woman, “You’re hired.”

It was yet another unexpected twist in Mr. Trump’s unconventional run that has defied the pundits, confounded the GOP establishment and made him the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Mr. Trump summoned the Washington press corps to the under-construction Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the White House. He said the one way or another he’s coming to the nation’s capital.

The billionaire businessman boasted that the hotel, which is being refurbished from the city’s historic Old Post Office building, was being restored to the “highest level,” with luxurious suites and the largest ballroom in Washington.

He vowed that it would be one of the greatest hotels in the world.

“It’s gong to be a very, very special job. We’re very proud of it,” said Mr. Trump, standing in front of a podium emblazoned with the Trump Hotels logo and flanked by more than a dozens construction workers and hotel staff.

He said the hotel would open ahead of schedule and under budget in September.

When hands went up from reporters gathered in the cavernous atrium where the hotel lobby was being built, Mr. Trump called on Alicia Watkins.

Ms. Watkins, 38, a former Air Force staff sergeant who survived the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was at the press conference as a freelance writer working on an article about jobs for veterans.

She briefly described her situation and complimented Mr. Trump’s stance of expanding employment opportunities for veterans, and then asked if the hotel would be part of a jobs program.

“We are doing some of that. What are you looking for, what kind of position,” Mr. Trump asked, and then invited her to come to the podium.

“So smart and good. You mind if I do a job interview?” he asked the crowd of reporters.

“We need good people,” he said.

When Mr. Trump asked her about her skills, Ms. Watkins said she was familiar with all kinds of decorations and artwork and wanted to apply it to the historic architecture of the Old Post Office.

Pleased with her response, Mr. Trump directed her to one of his company’s executives to work out a employment deal.

“If we can make a good deal on the salary, she’s going to probably have this job,” said the real estate tycoon.

Asked why he did the on-the-spot job interview, Mr. Trump said that he “felt good about her.”

“It’s a gut instinct,” he said. “I have instincts about people.”

The rest of the press conference ricocheted from Mr. Trump predicting he would secure the GOP nomination to downplaying the Republican establishment opposition to his candidacy to blaming professional left-wing agitators for inciting violence at his campaign rallies.

He then led a tour of the massive ballroom that was still under construction, fielding questions from a crush of reporters.

He said that support from Republican Party leaders would grow with the groundswell of voters backing him.

“When they start seeing how many Democrats are coming over and how many independents,” he said, “you are going to see a landslide.”

The press conference and tour came on a day when Mr. Trump met privately with about two dozen senators and congressmen in pursuit of establishment backing and then wooed Jewish voters in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

After the press conference, Ms. Watkins told reporters that she has struggled for years with post traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury and a minor spinal cord injury, which she said resulted in a medical discharge from the Air Force.

“Employment has been difficult,” she said.

Ms. Watkins said she didn’t think Mr. Trump would take her question, much less offer her a job.

It was not Ms. Watkins‘ first brush with fame.

In 2010, her life as a homeless veteran was documented on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” She later overcame homelessness and became a student at Harvard University, a success story presented on the show’s where-are-they-now episodes.

After the press conference, Ms. Watkins told reporters that Mr. Trump had won her vote.

“Hey, anyone who has done what he did for me today really, really gets my vote,” she said.

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