House Speaker Johnson to visit Columbia University amid protests

House Speaker Johnson to visit Columbia University amid protests

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has called on Columbia University’s president to resign for failing to quickly dismantle pro-Palestinian encampments on campus grounds amid Israel’s war against Hamas and its mounting civilian casualties.

“What we’re seeing on these college campuses across the country is disgusting and unacceptable,” Johnson said on “The Hugh Hewitt Show” Wednesday morning. “Every leader in this country, every political official, every citizen of good conscience has to speak out and say that this is not who we are in America, and we have got to have accountability.”

Johnson’s remarks came before he is set to meet with Jewish students at Columbia University and share a meal with the university’s Rabbi Yuda Drizin before holding a news conference with three New York House Republicans and House Education and the Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). The GOP lawmakers intend to call on University President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik to resign.

Johnson has previously invited Jewish students to meet with him in the Capitol, and has often allowed them to tell their stories of being under attack at school during news conferences.

“It’s unconscionable. This president, Shafik, is shown to be a very weak, inept leader. They cannot even guarantee the safety of Jewish students? They’re expected to run for their lives and stay home from class? It’s just, it’s, it’s maddening,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s visit marks the first time the top representative in the House is visiting a college campus amid ongoing protests that have led to tense exchanges between pro-Palestinian and Jewish students. More than 100 people on Columbia’s campus were recently arrested and charged with trespassing, with several students who took part in the encampment-style protest receiving suspension weeks before year’s end. Shafik called on the New York Police Department, whose officers arrived in riot gear, to arrest protesters just one day after she and other Columbia leaders told Congress that she would make changes aimed at reducing antisemitism on campus.

The speaker’s visit also comes right after Johnson spearheaded House passage of $95 billion in foreign aid, including $17 billion for Israel.

House Republicans have long accused colleges and universities of skewing left and pursuing a “woke” agenda that tramples on parental rights. But the antiwar outbursts on campuses across the country that began shortly after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel — and the rise of antisemitism on college campuses — are now frequently repeated issues among Republicans.

Neither Johnson nor Congress has any power to force a university president’s resignation. But a growing number of House Republicans have begun to call for slashing federal dollars sent to colleges and universities if they cannot control campus protests and guarantee student safety.

Johnson echoed the call Wednesday morning, though he is not expected to announce any legislative policy on campus, according to people familiar with his visit.

“We need to revoke federal funding to these universities that they cannot keep control. We need to revoke these student visas for these violent protesters. You don’t have a right to be here and to do this, but Jewish students have a right to be able to peacefully attend classes. They’re trying to get an education and this is just madness,” Johnson said.

“We’re going to call on educational institutions like Columbia, if you cannot control what is happening at your university, if the president at this university is failing to keep students safe, then she shouldn’t be eligible for any federal aid coming into this university,” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) said after touring the campus with fellow GOP freshman Rep. Michael Lawler (N.Y.) on Monday. Both will join Johnson on campus Wednesday, as well as Staten Island Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R).

During a Monday news conference, Lawler stated that the hate for Jewish people is taught in Gaza, “and unfortunately we see it being taught in schools in America.”

“Every single one of these college and university presidents who refuse to take action should immediately resign in disgrace, and if they don’t resign, their asses should be thrown out,” he said. “I have never seen a more disgraceful act than what we are seeing on college campuses right now.”

House Republicans have been pummeling the heads of elite university institutions for months. House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik’s interrogation of Harvard President Claudine Gay over whether antisemitic remarks should be protected under free speech went viral.

The December hearing before the Education and Workforce Committee led to a bipartisan call on Capitol Hill to denounce or demand the resignation of leaders at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology for their responses on the question, which many considered out of touch. Penn’s President Liz Magill and Gay both resigned amid public outcry.

The hearing launched further investigations by the committee and continual hearings to combat antisemitism on college campus, ending in Shafik’s Capitol Hill testimony last Wednesday

The Israel-Gaza war is also contentious among the House Democrats, with liberals clashing with some Jewish colleagues early on in the war. That prompted House Democratic leadership to attempt to keep attacks from becoming personal among members. Over the weekend, 37 liberals voted against sending $14 billion in aid to Israel over concerns that humanitarian aid would not reach Gaza, joining 21 Republicans who did not support the measure over spending concerns.

House Democratic leadership has unequivocally condemned any antisemitic rhetoric and attacks on college campuses.

“Every American has the constitutional right to free speech and peaceful assembly in the public square. However, intentionally targeting Jews or any community on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity, acts of harassment and the use of physical violence will never be tolerated,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Tuesday. “The effort to crush antisemitism and hatred in any form is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s an American issue that should bind us all together.”

In Wednesday’s interview with Hugh Hewitt, Johnson commented on seeing some news interviews with Columbia students, noting, “the vast majority of them have no idea what they’re talking about. They don’t know the facts … we’re relying on and calling upon and demanding these university officials to get control of this situation. It’s just completely out of control right now.”

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