Donald Trump’s acting deputy secretary of homeland security was called “the son of immigrant grandparents who cages children for a fascist president” on Wednesday night, by a man who forced him to leave a Capitol Hill bar on Thanksgiving eve.
That man was Martin O’Malley, former Baltimore mayor, governor of Maryland and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
It was the latest in a string of incidents in which angry opponents of Trump have confronted members of his administration in public.
In June 2018, then White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was famously asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia. Senior adviser Stephen Miller, the force behind Trump’s hardline immigration policies, has been confronted numerous times.
Such incidents have led to debate about the need for civility in US public life – particularly after Trump himself was booed at a World Series game in Washington in October. The first lady, Melania Trump, was booed in Baltimore on Tuesday, when she delivered remarks at a conference on the opioid epidemic.
In messages sent to the Washington Post after the Wednesday night incident at the Dubliner bar, O’Malley was unrepentant.
A Twitter user who met O’Malley at the pub first reported the incident, writing: “Martin O’Malley just drove Ken Cuccinelli out of the Dubliner in DC [with] a passion-laced and shame-invoking tirade on behalf of immigrant refugee children!!!”
Siobhan Houton Arnold later told the Post: “O’Malley was shouting. I don’t think Cuccinelli was responding. I think he’s like, ‘Time to go. Just got here and I’m leaving.’ He pretty much retreated.”
O’Malley told the Post he had not shouted, but had raised his voice to be heard in a busy bar as he gathered with fellow members of his class at Gonzaga, a Catholic high school in Washington from which Cuccinelli also graduated.
He wanted to talk about Trump immigration policy which has led to family separations at the southern border and controversy over the conditions in which migrants of all ages are held.
“We all let him know how we felt about him putting refugee immigrant kids in cages – certainly not what we were taught by the Jesuits at Gonzaga,” O’Malley told the Post, adding his line about Cuccinelli serving a “fascist president”.
Cuccinelli did not immediately comment.
He is a former attorney general of Virginia who narrowly lost to Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe in the 2013 gubernatorial election, a race in which he was accused of comparing immigrants to rats.
An immigration hardliner – in contrast to O’Malley’s record on the issue – he joined the Trump administration as acting director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service in June and became acting deputy homeland security secretary this month.
In June, Cuccinelli caused controversy when he responded to widely circulated images of a man from El Salvador who drowned with his young daughter while crossing the Rio Grande by saying the father was to blame because he “didn’t wait to go through the asylum process in the legal fashion”.
In August, he said Emma Lazarus’s poem at the Statue of Liberty in New York, which famously says “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, should be amended to reflect that America should welcome only the “poor who can stand on own two feet and who will not become a public charge”.
He also implied that the famous verse only applied to people from Europe.
Cuccinelli also courted controversy in 2010, as attorney general of Virginia, when he distributed lapel pins to his staff which featured a Confederate version of the state’s great seal.
Writing for the Guardian in August as the Statue of Liberty furore played out, former Clinton aide and Lincoln biographer Sidney Blumenthal said: “Cuccinelli’s imposition of a Confederate great seal and his chipping at the Statue of Liberty were of a piece.
“…Emma Lazarus brought her vision to Liberty in its original spirit. Cuccinelli seeks to deface Liberty with his stealth Confederate hostility. Send him back to the classroom.”