Sunday, May 26, 2024

House Speaker Mike Johnson confronts anti-war protesters at Columbia University

by BIZ Magazine

BY: JENNIFER SHUTT | Louisiana Illuminator

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson decried antisemitism and raised the possibility of calling in the National Guard to disperse student protesters during a trip to Columbia University in New York City on Wednesday.

Students on that campus, as well as others throughout the country in recent days, have hosted large anti-war rallies calling on the Israeli government to implement a permanent ceasefire in its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, and a handful of other House GOP lawmakers gave a press conference after meeting with university President Minouche Shafik, calling on her to resign.

“We just can’t allow this kind of hatred and antisemitism to flourish on our campuses,” Johnson said. “And it must be stopped in its tracks.”

Protesters watching the press conference repeatedly chanted over the GOP lawmakers as they spoke and booed Johnson several times as he criticized their actions. At one point, Johnson broke from his remarks to tell them to enjoy their First Amendment rights.

Protesters earlier Wednesday agreed to remove tents from the university’s West Lawn and limit participation to students, according to NBC New York.

Johnson said he planned to call President Joe Biden after leaving the campus to relay what Jewish students told him during a private meeting and what he saw on the campus.

“There is executive authority that would be appropriate,” Johnson said. “If this is not contained quickly, and if these threats and intimidation are not stopped, there is an appropriate time for the National Guard. We have to bring order to these campuses. We cannot allow this to happen around the country.”

Echoes of 1970s
Johnson calling for the U.S. National Guard to thwart anti-war protests is reminiscent of the1970s, when officials believed that was the best way to deal with students calling for an end to the Vietnam War.

That ultimately led to the deaths of four students and wounding of nine at Kent State University in Ohio after National Guard troops opened fire on peaceful protesters.

“The event triggered a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close,” according to Kent State’s webpage on the event.

The shooting led to one of the more haunting photos of the Vietnam War protest movement, showing Mary Ann Vecchio screaming as she mourned the death of Kent State University student Jeffrey Miller.

Johnson threatens congressional action
In addition to calling for the National Guard to possibly be deployed, Johnson said during the press conference the House of Representatives would be taking steps to tamp down antisemitism.

“The House has been investigating a number of these campuses,” Johnson said. “There is a nexus to federal funding. If these campuses cannot get control of this problem, they do not deserve taxpayer dollars. That’s a very serious issue.”

Congress approved the dozen annual government funding bills in March for the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30 and will likely use a stopgap spending bill to keep funding on autopilot past the elections.

Any changes to federal funding will need to move through the Democratic- controlled U.S. Senate and garner Biden’s support. House Republicans cannot act unilaterally to cut off funding for campuses that allow the anti-war protests to continue.

‘Take back control,’ Foxx says
North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said during the press conference that her panel had been investigating the protests on campus.

“Take back control of this once great institution,” Foxx said, speaking directly to Columbia University’s president. “You took action last week, it’s time to act again. If not, the committee will pursue every possible avenue to create a safe learning environment for Jewish students.”

New York Republican Rep. Michael Lawler, who represents the state’s 17th Congressional District north of the city, said that if protesters wanted a cease fire they should call on Hamas to surrender to the Israeli military.

“If you want a ceasefire, the fastest way for a ceasefire to occur is for Hamas to surrender and to release the hostages,” Lawler said. “And if you can’t call for that, you are a pathetic embarrassment to this institution and to students everywhere.”

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