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Trump battles protesters for space outside hotel grand opening

Reprint from The Washington Post

Every time Donald Trump holds an event at his new Washington hotel they’ve been there.

Out front. With signs. And sometimes a bullhorn.

Protesters have not allowed the presidential candidate to peacefully promote the Old Post Office project or his candidacy there, despite the federal government giving Trump’s company unusual leeway over the property outside his $212 million hotel.

Wednesday morning will be no different, as Trump plans to hold a grand opening celebration at the hotel and two anti-Trump groups have applied for sidewalk permits to protest two weeks before the election.

In the past, Trump Organization officials have either ignored the noise out front or stationed a security guard at the front of the hotel, located in the Old Post Office pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue.

But this time Trump has a unique plan top keep opponents away from his event. According to the National Park Service, a subsidiary of Trump’s company has applied for its own public space permit for Wednesday morning, which could give the magnate some control of the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue and possibly force protesters across the street.

Trump Old Post Office LLC, which leases the building from the federal government, applied for a permit to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the sidewalk Wednesday.

Permits are typically issued on a first-come, first-serve basis and different groups are sometimes given different sections of space on the sidewalk or street.

For Wednesday’s event, Trump is second in line in terms of requests. First priority goes to the local chapter of the AFL-CIO, which plans a picket line to support workers at a Trump hotel in Las Vegas, similar to a previous event the group held recently.

Last in line is the ANSWER Coalition, which protested all day last month when the hotel first opened for business. That application is for a “Demonstration Calling to Stop the Trump Agenda; Say No to Trump’s Racism; Defend Immigrants and Muslims,” according to the group’s application.

Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said that because Trump himself is expected to arrive Wednesday, the agency is conferring with the Secret Service, which is charged with protecting the candidate. Secret Service concerns could force protesters across to the north side of the street, he said.

“If there are not restrictions on the area imposed by the Secret Service, the National Park Service intends to issue permits to each applicant later this afternoon; the specific area for each applicant’s activity is still being determined. If the Secret Service closes the area in front of the hotel, applicants will be offered space on the NPS-administered sidewalk on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue,” Litterst said in a statement.

The Trump Organization declined to comment. Last week the company sent invitations saying “the Trump family will host an official ribbon cutting ceremony and opening press conference.”

First Amendment advocates and Trump foes, however, didn’t take kindly to the idea that Trump might be relying on taxpayer-funded security to bar opposing views out front of a publicly owned building.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer who frequently argues on behalf of First Amendment rights, said the Park Service had stonewalled her efforts to look at the permit applications but that Trump appeared to be relying on public resources to “sanitize their event from the reality of public dissent.”

“If they are in fact shutting the sidewalk, then the Trump Organization is able to use the Secret Service to create a no-protest buffer zone and shut down the sidewalk and the street for commercial gain — for a ribbon-cutting ceremony,” she said in an email. “He is not engaged in a political campaign event, he is here to make money and the Secret Service, at taxpayers expense, is serving as private security to facilitate his photo opportunity.”

Litterst said the agency has not yet released the permit applications because the documents need to be reviewed to be certain no personal information is released publicly.

Carlos Jimenez, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, said his group will be outside one way or another, supporting workers at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas who are seeking a new labor deal.

“We’re going to be there all morning and I think we’re just going to have folks in a picket line in support of the 500 workers in Vegas who are asking Mr. Trump to come back to the bargaining table,” he said.

Jimenez said he had spoken with police officials about access to the street (which is owned by the city, not the Park Service) and was sure his group would find some space even if the Secret Service patrolled the sidewalk.