There was chatter among Congressional reporters about wandering over to The Monocle for a drink last Wednesday night. The Monocle is an old-school Capitol Hill watering hole located next to U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters and across the parking lot from the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Senators sometimes hang out there while they wait for the body to get its business together for late night votes.
It was pushing 9 p.m. last Wednesday and the Senate was mired in a vote which began at 2:26 p.m. Senators struggled to work out a deal to finish up its work before Thanksgiving. The only reason reporters still lingered at the Capitol at that hour was because the Senate was slated to vote later to align with the House and avert a government shutdown. There would have been drama surrounding a potential government funding cliff just a few days earlier. But not now. The question was not if the Senate would pass the stopgap spending package – but when. And since there wasn’t an agreement over a pending defense policy bill, the Senate forestalled closing the roll call vote until everything was settled.
That’s when word came from the Capitol Police that all the office buildings on the House side of the Congressional complex were locked down. No one could come or go.
A massive, pro-Palestinian demonstration descended on the Democratic National Committee Headquarters just steps from the House office buildings. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Minority Whip Kathleen Clark, D-Mass., Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., and other Democratic members were at the DNC for an event. Democrats huddled throughout the day at the DNC with campaign operatives and Democratic candidates ahead of the 2024 election cycle.
The protesters encircled the building, demanding a Middle East ceasefire, blocking anyone from entering or leaving the DNC.
The Capitol Police moved in.
Jeffries and Clark have USCP security details due to their leadership positions. The protesters fired tear gas at the Capitol Police. The USCP then began clearing the way to evacuate members from the crowd. USCP arrested one man for assaulting officers.
The protesters injured a total of six officers.
“Last night’s group was not peaceful,” said the USCP in a statement the next day. “When demonstrations cross the line into illegal activity, it is our responsibility to maintain order.”
Democrats holed up in the DNC and let loose on the protesters.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., who is Jewish, characterized them as “pro-Hamas” and “pro-terrorist.” He added that demonstrators “want Republicans” to win in 2024.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., is also Jewish and was trapped in the DNC as well.
“When you engage in tactics that are intimidating and certainly blocking access or exit from a building, I think that crosses a line,” said Wasserman Schultz. “It was a very troubling, disturbing situation.”
“We were rescued by armed officers who did not know the protesters intent,” said Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., on Twitter.
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., tweeted that she was stuck in her office in the Longworth House Office Building with her newborn baby during the raucous demonstration.
Democrats have a problem.
There is a tear in their party over the Middle East. Progressive, left-wing activists – fueled by college campus outrage – are fracturing the party over calls for a ceasefire and Israel’s assertion to defend itself. That’s to say nothing of controversial comments by Squad members like Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., for a ceasefire and criticism of pro-Israeli groups like AIPAC (the American Israel Political Action Committee).
“I don’t think the Democratic Socialists of America, the Justice Democrats, et cetera, are part of the Democratic coalition,” said Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill.
Schneider has long aligned with AIPAC. He voted to sanction Tlaib on the House floor for pushing the trope “from the river to the sea,” which calls for the elimination of Israel.
“What we need is people of good conscience and moral clarity to stand united and say Israel was attacked by a terrorist organization seeking to destroy the country,” said Schneider.
AIPAC is now prepared to run candidates against Democrats who oppose its goals.
Progressive groups warned Jeffries last week that he and Democratic Congressional Committee Chairwoman (DCCC) and Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., need to keep AIPAC out of Democratic primaries.
Republicans have plenty of schisms on their side – between “Reagan” Republicans, the MAGA crowd, the Freedom Caucus and those who just want to lay a blowtorch to everything. That is radioactive. But the political, radioisotopes over the Middle East cauterize like no other issues.
That’s why some on the left now refer to President Biden as “Genocide Joe.”
The New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America faced criticism after it included a watermelon on a flyer pushing for a protest of Jeffries. Jeffries is Black. Racists have long used a watermelon to emphasize anti-Black views. The watermelon is also an icon of Palestinians who view Israel as occupiers.
A reporter asked Jeffries last week about the accusation by Rep. Summer Lee, D-Penn., that he shared the stage with Pastor John Hageee at a pro-Israel rally on the National Mall. Lee termed Hagee “an antisemitic bigot,” adding “this must be condemned.”
Jeffries replied that he appeared on stage at the rally alongside House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
“I have no idea what she’s talking about,” responded Jeffries to Lee’s accusation.
Republicans might not face the same internecine sniping as Democrats over the Middle East conflict. The GOP is more unified when it comes to standing behind Israel and approving legislation to assist the Jewish state financially and militarily. But there are Republicans who are tired of U.S. involvement in “foreign wars” and the spending which accompanies that. Look no further than the GOP divide over Ukraine. A potential Republican split hasn’t materialized yet over Israel. But it’s something to watch.
Democrats like Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., are now the victims of anti-Israel graffiti and vandalism at their district and state offices.
The rift over the Middle East is more pronounced on the Democratic side as evidenced by the protest at the DNC last week. Republicans certainly have their own special level of chaos after the Speaker debacle and struggles to pass their own spending bills.
But nothing is as volatile as the Middle East. It poses a special level of political problems for the Democratic Party.
That’s why the lockdown of the House office buildings and the tense protest outside the DNC last week was so important. It’s liberals attacking liberals. There’s division among Democratic members as mentioned earlier with the Squad and others. Democrats will struggle to highlight internal Republican dissent over government funding and even threats of violence between lawmakers when members of their own party are clashing over something as flammable as the Middle East.