By Agence France-Presse
Does working for Donald Trump mean you cannot enjoy a night out in Washington?
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders addresses a briefing at the White House June 25, 2018, in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / MANILA BULLETIN)
In the past week, several of the president's top aides have been targeted by protesters while dining, and his spokeswoman Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant in central Virginia over her views.
Now, the president has weighed in -- and he's not happy.
The billionaire president's target? The Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia -- a cozy 26-seat, farm-to-table establishment in a 19th-century brick building specializing in the local cuisine of the Shenandoah Valley.
On Friday night, the owner asked Sanders and her party -- who were already seated and eating a first course -- to leave after some of the staff objected to her presence.
"I politely left," Sanders tweeted, adding: "Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so."
But Trump was not having it.
"The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors, and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders," he said early Monday.
"I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!"
Beet risotto and immigrants
On its website, the Red Hen highlights its beet risotto, featuring "vegetables from Rancho Calixto, a family farm founded by immigrants from Mexico."
Owner Stephanie Wilkinson said her principles had to come before profitability.
"I have a business, and I want the business to thrive," Wilkinson told The Washington Post, adding that she felt she needed to make a stand against an "inhumane and unethical" administration.
"I explained (to Sanders) that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation," Wilkinson said.
Sanders was not the first to face a public backlash in her off hours.
Senior White House aide Stephen Miller was branded a "fascist" by one angry patron during a visit to a downtown Mexican restaurant.
And Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made a quick exit when leftist protesters marched into another Mexican restaurant chanting "Shame!" She also confronted angry activists at her home in the suburb of Alexandria.
In a deeply polarized political climate, especially as an immigration crisis swirls on the border with Mexico, even their choice of restaurants was criticized, with many seeing Miller and Nielsen as especially tone deaf.
Red and blue plates?
Cue the protests and hand-wringing on both sides. The Red Hen is now the target of a conservative boycott, while Democrats are cheering.
Representative Maxine Waters urged her supporters to "show up wherever we have to show up" to protest Trump's policies.
"If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd, and you push back on them, and you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere," she said.
Trump clapped back at her, using his regular insult that she is an "extraordinarily low IQ person" and accusing her of wishing his supporters harm.
"Be careful what you wish for Max!" he warned.
And Sanders added during her Monday briefing: "Healthy debate on ideas and political philosophy is important, but the calls for harassment and push for any Trump supporters to avoid the public is unacceptable."
Some are drawing parallels to a recent US Supreme Court ruling that backed a Colorado baker who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in order to protect his religious liberty.
"Some who defend baker's right to refuse service to gay couples, whine re ppl refusing service to a person who's the face of a deceitful Administration," said conservative pundit -- and harsh Trump critic -- Ana Navarro.
"Difference is, being gay is not a choice. Being an accomplice to Trump, is."
But not all Democrats are crying victory.
"Kind of amazed and appalled by the number of folks on Left who applauded the expulsion of @PressSec and her family from a restaurant," said David Axelrod, a former top aide to Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.
"This, in the end, is a triumph for @realDonaldTrump vision of America: Now we're divided by red plates & blue plates! #sad."
And in an editorial entitled "Let the Trump team eat in peace," The Washington Post said the blurring of lines between public and private lives was worrying.
"It wasn't the first time recently that strong political feelings have spilled into what used to be considered the private sphere," it said.
"We understand the strength of the feelings, but we don't think the spilling is a healthy development."