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Top House Democrats evacuated from DNC headquarters as police clash with protesters calling for Gaza ceasefire

<i>Alex Wong/Getty Images</i><br/>
Alex Wong/Getty Images

By Sam Fossum, Morgan Rimmer and Manu Raju, CNN

(CNN) — Law enforcement clashed with protesters calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war outside of the Washington headquarters of the Democratic National Committee Wednesday night, the latest eruption of tensions across the country over the Israel-Hamas war.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, House Minority Whip Katherine Clark and Rep. Pete Aguilar were inside as the clash between protesters and police sparked and turned violent, according to authorities.

Six officers were injured during the melee Wednesday evening and one person was arrested for allegedly punching a female officer. According to US Capitol Police, officers had worked “to keep back approximately 150 people who are illegally and violently protesting” in the area – a characterization activist groups later disputed – and escorted members of Congress, including the top House Democrats, from the area.

USCP, in a statement Thursday, defended its actions saying that the protesters were “not peaceful” and said the protestors moved dumpsters in front of the exits and pepper sprayed police officers.

“We have handled hundreds of peaceful protests, but last night’s group was not peaceful,” the statement said.

An official familiar with the situation told CNN that one of the reasons there weren’t more arrests was because officers were focused on holding the police line.

President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden called into a DNC and campaign staff meeting on Thursday, the White House said in a statement, and “expressed appreciation to law enforcement,” as well as “thanked the staffers for all they do, wished them a happy Thanksgiving, and told them to take care of each other.”

The incident comes two days after what is believed to have been the largest pro-Israel gathering in the US, on the National Mall. Congressional leaders from both parties, including Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson, found common ground at the rally.

An earlier march at Freedom Plaza in Washington to support Palestinian civilians and demand a ceasefire saw no major disturbances.

Outside the DNC

About 10 members were at the DNC headquarters on Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the matter, including Suzan DelBene, the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell. The members had been meeting with House candidates who were in town for training sessions and to connect with fellow Democrats.

California Rep. Brad Sherman told CNN’s Abby Philip on “NewsNight” that he was among the members evacuated to the Capitol and slammed protesters for “their willingness to attack police.”

“The one point I want to make is, yesterday, there were 200,000 pro-Israel demonstrators, with a permit, entirely peaceful,” Sherman said. “And, here, you have a demonstration, less than 1000th as large, that’s also getting publicity and it’s getting publicity because their willingness to attack police – as they did with pepper spray – is a force multiplier.”

As the gathering outside of the DNC turned tense Wednesday night, with protesters face-to-face with law enforcement, a CNN crew on the scene reported police setting up a barricade around the building.

Just after 9 p.m. ET, Capitol Police sent out an alert saying they had sealed all House office buildings and exits. “All House buildings: Significant demonstration activity, no entry or exit is permitted at this time. You may move throughout the buildings,” it said.

Most members and their staff had already left the House buildings, as the chamber took its last votes before the Thanksgiving recess earlier in the day.

Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois said on social media that he was one of the members of Congress evacuated during the protest, writing that he was “grateful to Capitol Police for getting all members and staff out safely.”

“You have the Constitutional right to peaceably assemble and protest. But blocking all entries to a building with multiple members of Congress in it, protected by Capitol Police officers who have lived through January 6 is putting you and other innocent people at risk,” he added.

Calls for ceasefire

Earlier Wednesday, a group organized by Jewish Voice for Peace Action, IfNotNow Movement, and Democratic Socialists of America held a candlelight vigil near Capitol Hill, asking Congress to call for ceasefire.

Beth Miller, political director of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, said in a statement Wednesday night that “hundreds of peaceful anti-war activists came to the DNC to call for an end to bombs and violence in order to save Palestinian and Israeli lives.”

“They were met with brutal assaults by the police,” Miller continued. “The Democrats need to decide: will they stand on the side of peace and justice, or will they continue to support war and genocide?”

Eva Borgwardt, IfNotNow’s national spokesperson, said in a statement, “Instead of heeding our call for a ceasefire, police violently attacked nonviolent protesters with pepper spray.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.

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