June 25, 2018 / 11:19 PM / 3 months ago

White House press secretary responds to controversy over restaurant ouster

June 25 (Reuters) - White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders urged greater civility three days after she was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant because she worked for U.S. President Donald Trump, an incident that prompted Twitter attacks from the president on Monday.

Sanders began her Monday press briefing by relating the story of her being asked to leave the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, on Friday because she worked for Trump. The owner later confirmed the reasoning to media, and the incident drew praise and condemnation online for the restaurant.

“We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions,” the restaurant owner, Stephanie Wilkinson, told the Washington Post on Saturday after Sanders tweeted about the episode.

“We are allowed to disagree, but we should be able to do so freely and without fear of harm,” Sanders told reporters on Monday afternoon. “And this goes for all people regardless of politics. Some have chosen to push hate and vandalism against the restaurant that I was asked to leave from. A Hollywood actor publicly encouraged people to kidnap my children.

“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.

Earlier on Monday, Trump lashed out at Democratic Representative Maxine Waters, who told a crowd in California on Sunday that the Red Hen’s actions should be a model for resisting the president’s administration. Trump responded on Twitter by calling her “an extraordinarily low IQ person.”

Tensions have risen over the Republican president’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that initially led to migrant children being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump also criticized the Virginia restaurant.

“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 said on Twitter. “I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”

Some critics said Sanders may have violated federal ethics rules by using her official government account to tweet about what happened at the restaurant.

Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Peter Cooney

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