MANCHESTER, N.H. — Donald Trump faced a number of wild questions at a town hall here Thursday, including one from a woman who suggested he replace “heebeejabees” working as TSA officers with veterans.
The woman suggested Trump address the jobs shortage for veterans by employing them at the border or with TSA, asking him to “get rid of all these ‘heebeejabies' they wear at TSA," presumably a reference to workers who wear the Muslim headscarf called a “hijab."
Trump simply replied: “We’re looking at that. We’re looking into a lot of things.”
It’s unclear what exactly he meant he was looking into.
The comments come as Trump and his aides have carefully, and oftentimes confusingly, been walking back his proposal to ban Muslim immigrants from the U.S. — a policy that, when he introduced it during the GOP primary, caused an uproar among members of both parties, with critics calling it unconstitutional and at worst, racist. Trump has now said he doesn’t want to ban all Muslim immigrants, only those from “terror countries,” though he has yet to explain his criteria for evaluating immigrants.
It was one of a handful of potentially damaging moments during the presumptive GOP nominee’s town hall event in New Hampshire — and the latest indication that, though Trump has made an effort to rein in his style and tone and focus more on policy in recent weeks, he’s still far from the disciplined candidate Republicans have hoped for and Trump’s aides have promised.
The unusual forum, where the audience was able to ask unvetted questions, gave Trump reason to boast — “Do you think Hillary Clinton would ever do a news conference like this? Totally unvetted?” he asked — but it also left some room for error.
When a questioner told Trump he opposed abortion, the candidate briefly replied, “we’re with you,” before moving on, calling the questioner’s comments “tough questions.” Trump has a notoriously spotty record on abortion; he’s previously described himself as pro-abortion rights and now says he opposes it.
The man then advocated that the U.S. stop supporting “zionist Israel,” a suggestion unpopular amongst the Republican base that heavily heavily favors unflinching support for the country.
“Let me just tell you that Israel is a very very important ally,” Trump responded.
At one point, when a questioner suggested Trump should try to encourage a “culture” in which Americans want to buy products made in the U.S., Trump agreed: “Our people should have more pride in buying made in the USA … we should put that on our products.” He declined to mention that many of his own Trump-branded products are made abroad.
He gave the audience a taste of the more disciplined Trump during the first half of the event, where he largely repeated much of the themes and proposals he outlined during his Tuesday speech on trade policy.
The candidate spoke largely extemporaneously, but occasionally referred to his notes for facts and figures about job losses in the area. And it still seemed at times he hadn’t yet mastered his own policy — Trump read through the seven points of his trade policy near-verbatim, at times sounding like he were reading instructions for a recipe.
But even while relying on notes and well-trodden policy proposals, Trump backed himself into a gaffe the moment he strayed from the script, joking of a plane overhead: “That could be a Mexican plane up there, they’re getting ready to attack.” The comment blew up on Twitter, with many critics musing over the possibility of a President Trump someday making similar jokes behind the podium.
And some of his comments underscored major questions hanging over his policy proposals. “We’re going to keep everybody here. They’re not going to leave,” Trump said of the possibility of companies moving overseas in response to his trade policies. He later said, in response to a question on “corporate backlash” to his policies, that jobs might exit certain states but they wouldn’t go to Mexico, without offering an explanation for why.