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- President Donald Trump’s top officials are being accosted or ejected from restaurants.
- It’s the latest battleground between the administration and its critics.
- The confrontations come as Trump’s controversial border policy dominates the news.
Within a week, three of President Donald Trump’s top staffers were confronted as they ate in restaurants.
The confrontations began when Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to the president and a huge force behind the president’s controversial family-separation policy at the southern border, was accosted as he ate at a Washington, DC, Mexican restaurant. The New York Post reported that a diner spotted Miller and said, “Hey look guys, whoever thought we’d be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?”
Two nights later, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, whose agency was responsible for carrying out the policy, was faced with a number of protesters at a separate Mexican restaurant in the nation’s capital. The protesters, some of whom were members of the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America, shouted “Shame!” and “End family separation!” as Nielsen ate with one other person.
Then, on Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who defended the president’s policy from the briefing room, was asked to leave a rural Virginia restaurant by the establishment’s owner because of the work she had done for Trump. She tweeted about the encounter, which led to the owners of another Red Hen restaurant receiving death threats and that establishment being vandalized.
The restaurant’s owner, Stephanie Wilkinson, told The Washington Post that several of her employees are gay and took issue with Sanders defending Trump’s desire to bar transgender people from serving in the military. They also were uneasy with serving the press secretary who defended Trump’s controversial family-separation policy. Wilkinson told Sanders to leave.
“This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals,” Wilkinson told The Post.
The episode sparked a wide-ranging debate over whether these staffers should be allowed to eat in peace, or if they should expect similar confrontations or ejections for the border policy. That policy led to more than 2,000 children being separated from their families as the Trump administration prosecuted their parents for illegal entry, a misdemeanor.
Trump last week issued an executive order putting that policy on pause, but the order is under intense legal scrutiny. The administration has yet to reunite all of the children with their families.
‘Their relentless contempt might end up re-electing him’
Both The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post editorial boards argued that Trump administration officials should not be accosted as they eat or ejected from restaurants simply because of their job.
“The political left is now repeating that mistake as its cultural and political vanguard sends a message of condescension, hostility and now ostracism to anyone who voted for Mr. Trump or has worked with or for him for the good of the country,” The Journal’s conservative-leaning editorial board wrote. “Their relentless contempt might end up re-electing him.”
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The Post’s more liberal-leaning editorial board wrote that it “would argue” the officials “should be allowed to eat dinner in peace.”
“Those who are insisting that we are in a special moment justifying incivility should think for a moment how many Americans might find their own special moment,” The Post wrote. “How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families? Down that road lies a world in which only the most zealous sign up for public service. That benefits no one.”
Of note, abortion providers have for years faced similar confrontations from anti-abortion activists, and such intensity was felt in the earlier part of the decade when Tea Party protesters brought guns to rallies and town halls as they opposed President Barack Obama and his healthcare policy.
Those on the left, meanwhile, pointed to the administration making its argument in bad faith.
“The Trump administration’s position is NOT that restaurants shouldn’t discriminate against people whose life decisions they disagree with,” Vox’s Ezra Klein tweeted. “It’s that restaurants shouldn’t discriminate against the Trump administration.”
Sanders and Trump praised the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that sided with a baker who refused to serve a gay couple a wedding cake, citing religious liberty.
A number of people also said there was an important distinction between the restaurant not kicking out a Trump supporter, but a high-level government official. Some sought to paint Sanders’s removal as an attack against all of Trump’s voters.
“Are regular-guy Americans getting yelled at in restaurants because they voted for Trump? No,” tweeted Democratic strategist John Aravosis. “These are senior government officials who are being called out publicly for their actions in government.”
Additionally, the level of abuse the Red Hen and a sister restaurant faced after Sanders’s tweet was cited as publications opined about being civil toward the administration.
“Two restaurants (one of which has nothing to do with the story) are the focus of a harassment campaign provoked by the Trump admin because of a constitutionally-protected act of political dissent,” tweeted The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer. “Washington’s bipartisan political elite is lecturing the restauranteur on civility.”