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Restaurant Group Joins Lawsuit Against Trump, Citing Unfair Competition

President Trump's motorcade heads down Pennsylvania Avenue as he goes to dinner at the Trump International Hotel on March 25.

Updated: 10:26 a.m. ET

Two plaintiffs involved in the hotel and restaurant industry have joined a lawsuit alleging President Trump is violating the Constitution, potentially bolstering the effort. The lawsuit centers on whether Trump is breaching the Emoluments Clause — a provision in the Constitution that prevents government officials from accepting gifts, benefits and the like from foreign leaders.

The Emoluments Clause is meant to ensure a president can't profit from his office. The lawsuit said Trump is doing just that because his hotels and restaurants do business with foreign governments.

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which advocates for improving wages and conditions for restaurant workers, is one of the new plaintiffs to the lawsuit originally filed in late January by the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of ROC United, says her group has 25,000 restaurant workers and more than 200 restaurant-owner members who could be directly impacted by Trump's hotels and restaurants.

"Foreign dignitaries, ambassadors, first ladies, presidents and prime ministers from other countries feel like they have to or should or want to use Trump hotels and restaurants instead of our members' restaurant in order to curry favor with the president," she says.

Jayaraman says it's tough to pin down a direct loss to ROC United members because of the Trump properties as it has only been two months since Trump was inaugurated. But she says many ROC United members regularly serve foreign dignitaries and see "the potential loss is so great."

Her members voted in late March to join the CREW lawsuit.

The other new plaintiff is Jill Phaneuf, who books receptions and events for two hotels in Washington, D.C. "This isn't about politics; I'm a registered Republican," she said in a statement to NPR. Phaneuf added, "I believe nothing is more important that our constitutional protections. I joined this lawsuit because the president is taking business away from me and others with unfair business practices that violate the Constitution."

Their addition may help bolster the CREW lawsuit, which analysts say suffers from potential problems with standing to pursue the suit. In other words, the watchdog group by itself would have trouble proving it is harmed because of alleged unfair competition from Trump hotels and restaurants.

The owners of a wine bar in Washington, D.C., also filed a lawsuit last month against Trump, saying he's unfairly promoting the nearby Trump International Hotel and hurting local businesses.

The White House has waved off the lawsuits, saying that the president has taken all the necessary steps to avoid violating the Emoluments Clause. Trump has turned over the day-to-day management of his company to his children and transferred his ownership to a revocable trust of which he is the sole beneficiary.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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