Trump speech to Pa. GOP draws protests

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 Marni Helasa protests outside New York City's  The Plaza Hotel where Donald Trump is speaking (Dave Davies/WHYY)

Marni Helasa protests outside New York City's The Plaza Hotel where Donald Trump is speaking (Dave Davies/WHYY)

When Donald Trump spoke at the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s Commonwealth Club fundraiser in New York’s Plaza Hotel Friday, there probably weren’t as many protesters outside as donors inside. But they were probably noisier.

One woman held a “Nutter was right” sign, referring to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s colorful critique of the presidential candidate as an “a-hole.”

The state Republican Party’s decision to invite Trump as the featured speaker for the annual Pennsylvania Society event was controversial when it was announced a couple of weeks ago. The furor grew after Trump’s statement that Muslim immigration to the U.S. should be banned.

The protesters and media attention made security especially tight in and around the Plaza, the swank hotel on Central Park. I was tossed out of the lobby twice when hotel security figured out I was a reporter.

I can’t tell you much about what Trump said, since the media weren’t invited, but a few attendees did speak to reporters afterward.

Marc Scaringi, a Pennsylvanian who ran for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination in 2012, said Trump praised Pennsylvania for allowing fracking, then offered some cracks about Hillary Clinton.

“He said she has low energy,” Scaringi said.  “He said Hillary Clinton will give a speech and then go to sleep for four days – apparently it takes her that long to rejuvenate.”

The speech was interrupted several times by protesters. Some made their way in from outside. Others had bought $1,000 tickets and stood to read poems or sing songs. All were promptly ejected.

“A little bit of altercation occurred right near where I was sitting,” Scaringi said. “Some chairs were turned over.”

Members of a group of protesters who managed to briefly make their way into the room said they were handled roughly by Trump security people.

“They were throwing us around,” said Jamila Hammami, a Tunisian-born protester. “I was thrown to the ground several times. I’m pretty sure they were Trump’s people. They were all wearing GOP pins.”

Besides generating protest and criticism from Democrats, Trump’s appearance has stirred dissent among Pennsylvania Republicans. Several prominent elected officials from the party found their schedules didn’t permit them to attend.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, who’s running for re-election this year couldn’t make it, and he tweeted this week that Trump was “wrong” about Muslim immigration.

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