LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. --Does a fork or dinner knife pose an unacceptable danger to President Barack Obama?
One wouldn’t think so, given the hundreds of lunches and dinners he’s attended ranging from state dinners to political fundraisers to run-of-the-mill stops on the rubber-chicken circuit.
However, at one such lunch Friday afternoon, guests heard an unusual announcement that they needed to hand over their silverware for security reasons.
“It’s very important that you use your utensils as soon as possible,” National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials board member Raquel Regalado told about 1000 delegates at the group’s annual conference.
Regalado hurried the diners to finish up their salads and pre-cut chicken breasts, saying that the Secret Service required that there be no knives at the tables and that the forks be rounded up before Obama entered the room.
“As you know, we’re having another speaker and there is some Secret Service involved. So there’s a reason why there’s no knives at your table and the forks will be collected. ... And I’m not joking,” Regalado told the audience in a ballroom at Disney’s Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World. “So, like the good Hispanic mother I’m here to tell you to please, eat your lunch.”
A Secret Service spokesman confirmed that the agency made the request, but said such requirements are common at large events where the president speaks at about the same time people are dining.
“The Secret Service coordinates this process with staff and host committee to ensure tables are cleared of material that may be deemed hazardous prior to the arrival of the president,” Special Agent Max Milien told POLITICO. "Any implication that this was unique for this event is completely inaccurate."
In other words, the announcement at the Latino officials’ event may have been unusual, but the removal of the silverware usually takes place without anyone realizing it’s a security measure.
Still, there are a wide variety of breakfasts, lunches and dinners the president attends where diners still have the full complement of silverware as Obama speaks.
Milien declined to comment on the discrepancy. However, it’s known that the Secret Service adjusts security depending on the size of the crowd and how much officials know about who’s in attendance. At some events, guests must pass through magnetometers. At others, they don’t.
The Service usually doesn’t worry too much about impromptu stops where a potential assailant would have no reason to expect the president. Sometimes the president’s attendance at sporting events is kept secret until the last minute to avoid having to perform security checks on every fan.
Indeed, there is plenty of silverware at large events like the White House Correspondents Dinner. However, those on the dais are well known to the White House and Obama does not plunge into the crowd there. After the speech, Obama spent about six minutes shaking hands along a so-called ropeline in front of the crowd.
Abby Phillip contributed reporting to this post.
UPDATE: This post has been updated with further comment from Milien.