President Trump issued a warning Monday to a liberal Democratic lawmaker who advocated confronting administration officials at restaurants and gas stations, as the partisan uproar over immigration policy prompted a top Homeland Security official to alert federal workers of a “heightened threat” against them.
The president warned Rep. Maxine Waters of California in a tweet that her call for supporters to heckle members of the Trump administration could backfire.
“Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the Face of the Democrat Party,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!”
Ms. Waters urged supporters last weekend to confront Trump Cabinet members “in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station” over the administration’s now-rescinded policy of separating illegal child immigrants from their parents.
“You get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” Ms. Waters said during a rally in Los Angeles.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was shunned at a Virginia restaurant last weekend, rejected Ms. Waters’ rhetoric.
“Healthy debate on ideas and political philosophy is important,” she said. “But the calls for harassment and push for any Trump supporter to avoid the public is unacceptable. America is a great country, and our ability to find solutions despite those disagreements is what makes us unique.”
It was the latest skirmish over increasingly aggressive confrontation of Trump officials in public, which culminated last weekend with a restaurant owner in Lexington, Virginia, asking White House press secretary Mrs. Sanders to leave because owner and her employees felt the need to “uphold their morals.”
Some top Democrats distanced themselves Monday from Ms. Waters’ call essentially to harass Trump officials. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California called for civility in a tweet that included a link to Ms. Waters’ remarks.
“In the crucial months ahead, we must strive to make America beautiful again,” Mrs. Pelosi tweeted. “Trump’s daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable. As we go forward, we must conduct elections in a way that achieves unity from sea to shining sea.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee called on Mrs. Pelosi to condemn the remarks in a tweet prior to her post. The NRCC called Ms. Waters’ comments “unacceptable.”
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said there is “nothing wrong with confronting” Trump administration officials in public — as long as it is done “with love.”
“If I saw an administrator out and about, there’s nothing wrong with confronting that person,” Mr. Booker said on MSNBC. “But not to lead with love, and to do it in a way that is more reflective of the values that we are trying to reject in our country, is unacceptable to me.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was confronted by administration opponents last week at a restaurant and at her home. In the wake of these and other incidents, the acting deputy secretary of homeland security has warned employees in a memo that “there may be a heightened threat” against them.
“This assessment is based on specific and credible threats that have been levied against certain DHS employees and a sharp increase in the overall number of general threats against DHS employees — although the veracity of each threat varies,” said the message from Claire M. Grady, obtained by CBS News. “In addition, over the last few days, thousands of employees have had their personally identifiable information publically [sic] released on social media.”
It recommends DHS employees “always keep doors and windows locked” and “be aware of unexpected changes in and around your home.”
WikiLeaks last week published a database identifying more than 9,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees, including information such as job histories, profile pictures and information on their educational background and the city and state in which they’re based.
Mrs. Sanders urged Americans Monday to reject Ms. Waters’ calls to harass administration officials, citing her own booting from a restaurant as evidence of the nation’s out-of-control partisan feuds.
“We are allowed to disagree, but we should be able to do so freely and without fear of harm, and this goes for all people regardless of politics,” Mrs. Sanders said at the daily press briefing.
The owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, asked Mrs. Sanders to leave Friday night, saying she and her employees oppose the administration’s policies. Mrs. Sanders and her party did leave.
On Monday, the president’s spokeswoman appealed for a return to “healthy debate.”
“Some have chosen to push hate and vandalism against the restaurant I was asked to leave from,” Mrs. Sanders said. “A Hollywood actor publicly encouraged people to kidnap my children. We are allowed to disagree, but we should be able to do so freely and without fear of harm, and this goes for all people regardless of politics.”
Her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said Monday the harassment didn’t stop after his daughter was kicked out of the Red Hen restaurant.
In a radio interview, he said the Red Hen owner followed the party Friday to a nearby restaurant in Lexington, then organized an impromptu protest outside, even though Mrs. Sanders and her husband had already left for home.
“Sarah and her husband just went home, they had sort of had enough, but the rest of her family went across the street to a different restaurant,” Mr. Huckabee told host Laura Ingraham on her Monday show. “The owner of the Red Hen — because nobody’s told this — then followed them across the street, called people and organized a protest, yelling and screaming at them from outside the other restaurant, and creating a scene.”
• S.A. Miller, Gabriella Munoz and Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.