Trump seeks upper hand on civility — to chagrin of Dems

A Virginia restaurant’s decision to not serve White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reverberated throughout Washington on Monday, as President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE seized on the story and Democratic leaders sought to distance their party from a liberal firebrand’s decision to cheer it on.

Trump focused on the brewing controversy as a way to shift the focus from his administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy and onto the actions of his fiercest critics.

The president tweeted his disgust on Monday morning with The Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., and then followed his missive up with an attack on Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersPrivate insurance plays a critical part in home mortgage ecosystem On The Money: Lawmakers closing in on border deal | Dems build case for Trump tax returns | Trump, Xi won't meet before trade deadline | Waters in talks with Mnuchin for testimony Waters in talks with Mnuchin for testimony on lifting of sanctions on Russian firms MORE (D-Calif.), who over the weekend urged other opponents of the president to confront administration officials in public.

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In doing so, Trump used the kind of insults that have a part of his political brand, even though they added to a tone of incivility that many saw the Virginia restaurant owner as worsening with her actions toward Sanders.

“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,” Trump wrote in the first tweet.

Later, the president took aim at Waters, calling her “low IQ,” and insinuating she might be subject to harassment as a result of her own comments.

“(Waters) has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement,” Trump tweeted. “Be careful what you wish for Max!”

Sanders also leaned into the controversy at the outset of Monday’s press briefing, underscoring the administration’s desire to score points on Democrats over the issue.

“We are allowed to disagree, but we should be able to do so freely and without fear of harm,” she said. “And this goes for all people regardless of politics.”

“Healthy debate on ideas and political philosophy is important, but the calls for harassment and push for any Trump supporter to avoid the public is unacceptable,” she added.

Those remarks were a nod toward Waters, who in a weekend speech had urged Trump critics to confront officials in restaurants, gas stations or shopping centers.

“For these members of his Cabinet who remain and try to defend him they're not going to be able to go to a restaurant, they're not going to be able to stop at a gas station, they're not going to be able to shop at a department store, the people are going to turn on them, they're going to protest, they're going to absolutely harass them until they decide that they're going to tell the president ‘No, I can't hang with you, this is wrong, this is unconscionable and we can't keep doing this to children,’ ” she said.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDonald Trump proved himself by winning fight for border security Trump should beware the 'clawback' Congress The national emergency will haunt Republicans come election season MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration MORE (D-N.Y.) gently pushed back at Waters, seemingly recognizing that the remarks could backfire.

Schumer in a speech on the Senate floor criticized the harassment of political opponents as “not American.”

He said he understands Democrats’ frustrations given Trump’s tone and insults.

“But the president’s tactics and behavior should never be emulated,” Schumer said. “It should be repudiated by organized, well-informed and passionate advocacy.”

Pelosi criticized Trump for a “daily lack of civility,” but labeled tit-for-tat responses “unacceptable" and called for national unity.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHarris, Booker call for judgement on Jussie Smollett case to be withheld until investigation is completed Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Jussie Smollett case shows media villainizing Trump and his supporters, without proof — again MORE (D-N.J.), a prospective 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, welcomed respectful protests of Trump administration officials, but appeared to reject Waters’s rhetoric.

“We’ve got to get to a point in our country where we can talk to each other, where we are all seeking a more beloved community,” he said on MSNBC. “And some of those tactics that people are advocating for, to me, don’t reflect that spirit.”

Republicans clearly saw the restaurant dispute and the Waters remarks as a political lifeline after a brutal week dominated by global criticism of Trump’s zero tolerance policy, which had resulted in children being separated from their parents. Trump retreated on that policy by issuing an executive order last week ending it.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said his daughter was the victim of “bigotry.” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called Sanders’s removal “hypocrisy” from liberals. Other conservatives called for a boycott of The Red Hen.

Trump retweeted Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio in Colombia to push for delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (R-Fla.), who wrote that Trump's opponents “help him with their irrational hostility towards those who work for him.”

Democrats, for their part, often seemed frustrated.

Many believe that Trump and his allies invite rude behavior with their own actions, and that the president in particular has coarsened public discourse while contributing to political polarization.

At the same time, there are growing worries that the anger of the so-called resistance to Trump could end up hurting Democrats.

It’s a subject that has been heavily discussed following Robert De Niro’s “F--- Trump” fusillade from the stage of the Tony Awards, and comedian Samantha Bee’s use of the “c-word” to describe Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpFour names emerge for UN position: report Trump dismisses Ann Coulter after criticism: 'I hardly know her' On The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration MORE.

Democrats are depending on their base to come out this fall to win back the House majority, but they also are worried about firing up the president’s base.

Former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? The unlikely legislative duo that joined together on immigration A tale of two Trumps MORE (D-N.Y.), who once led the House Democratic campaign arm, said the “better alternative” for The Red Hen owner “would have been to let Sanders know the owner was donating the price of her meal to elect Democrats who would stop Trump and thank Sanders for her generosity to the resistance.”

While Israel acknowledged that on a moral level he understands why Sanders was asked to leave he said he worries that “these tactics further divide the country.”

Amie Parnes contributed.