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Presidential Candidates Address AIPAC Policy Conference


The nation's largest pro-Israel political organization is hearing from U.S. presidential candidates today. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, is holding its annual conference in Washington. This morning, Democrat Hillary Clinton delivered a speech with several thinly veiled attacks on Donald Trump. Some of its members are pledging to walk out when Trump makes his speech this evening.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is at the AIPAC conference and joins us now. And Don, first, let's look ahead to Trump's speech. What are you going to be listening for?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Well, here's the thing with Donald Trump. We don't know what he'll say - period. And he has made controversy in recent weeks talking about Israel and the Middle East. Just some examples - on the Middle East peace talks, Trump has said he'd be neutral in overseeing negotiations as president. Now, that happens to be stated U.S. policy - to play the neutral third-party. But it is certainly not Republican Party orthodoxy, and he's been criticized for it.

He's also hesitated when asked if the capital of Israel should be moved from Tel Aviv and relocated to Jerusalem. That puts him at odds with this room by not having a firm yes answer. He's soft in both positions there, but he's got a few things to clarify before this audience.

And then the other thing is this is very different from a Donald Trump rally. It's the kind of place where every word is measured and checked very closely. So the usual off-the-cuff freewheeling speech that we generally get from Donald Trump might not get a great reception here if that's what he chooses to do.

CORNISH: Right. As we mentioned earlier, the potential for walkouts - what's the message that those protesters might be trying to send at that AIPAC speech?

GONYEA: A lot of it is real concern about how he'd approach the peace process. So there's that. But there are all kinds of things. There are worries about religious intolerance on Trump's part. Prime Minister Netanyahu was among those who condemned Trump's call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

Then there's - I guess you could just say there's the general tone of the Trump campaign that many people object to. So that too might spark some walkouts, some protests, some no-shows.

CORNISH: Let's turn to Hillary Clinton now. As we said, she spoke this morning. Clearly Donald Trump was on her mind as well. What did she have to say?

GONYEA: She did not mention Trump by name. But I'm going to play a piece of tape for you here, and it is clear who she was talking about. Give a listen.


HILLARY CLINTON: Yes, we need steady hands, not a president who says he's neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who-knows-what on Wednesday because everything's negotiable.


GONYEA: And big, sustained applause there. It was her biggest applause line. And, you know, she basically said that the kind of campaign that Trump is running - again, not mentioning him by name - is just not what America is.

CORNISH: So what did Clinton have to say about relations with Israel?

GONYEA: She talked a lot about how critical it is that the U.S. and Israel have a very strong partnership and how other nations should not be allowed to drive a wedge between them and how Israel's security is paramount - so all of the things that you would expect just right down the line there.

But she also addressed an area where she and AIPAC are at odds. She supports the Iran nuclear deal. AIPAC tried to kill it. Today, she defended the deal, but she did say she will be very tough in dealing with Iran. Give a listen.


CLINTON: It's not good enough to trust and verify. Our approach must be distrust and verify.


CLINTON: This deal must come with vigorous enforcement, strong monitoring, clear consequences for any violations and a broader strategy to confront Iran's aggression across the region.

GONYEA: And again, Audie, you can hear just light applause there, not thunderous but no boos there, either.

CORNISH: That's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. Don, thank you.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.