House speaker calls for Columbia president’s resignation amid protests

Washington — House Speaker Mike Johnson was met with loud boos when he visited Columbia University on Wednesday to call for the resignation of the institution’s president as the campus has been roiled with accusations of antisemitism amid ongoing pro-Palestinian protests.

“I am here today joining my colleagues and calling on President [Minouche] Shafik to resign if she cannot immediately bring order to this chaos,” the Louisiana Republican said to a crowd that drowned out his remarks with boos and chants of “We can’t hear you” and “Mike, you suck.” 

Johnson said he briefly met with Shafik and other top officials to encourage them “to take immediate action and stamp this out.” 

“Our feeling is that they have not acted to restore order on the campus,” he said. “This is dangerous. This is not free expression. This is not First Amendment. They are threatening, intimidating.” 

The university declined to respond to Johnson’s call for Shafik’s resignation. 

Johnson, who also met with Jewish students before his remarks, said he planned to call President Biden later Wednesday to urge him to take action, adding that the National Guard may need to be deployed. 

“If this is not contained quickly, and if these threats and intimidation are not stopped, there is an appropriate time for the National Guard,” he said. “We have to bring order to these campuses.” 

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks during a press conference at Columbia University on April 24, 2024.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks during a press conference at Columbia University on April 24, 2024. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Johnson was joined by GOP Reps. Mike Lawler, Nicole Malliotakis and Anthony D’Esposito, all from New York, and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. 

The visit came as college campuses continue to be roiled by protests and tensions related to the Israel-Hamas war. Many of the protesters are demanding universities to divest financial holdings in Israel. At Columbia, demonstrators have taken over a portion of the New York City campus, creating an encampment. The protests have persisted for a week. 

University leaders have been toeing a line on how to express disdain about antisemitic language and enforce university policies while also allowing students to practice free speech, as they face accusations that colleges are not doing enough to protect Jewish students. And tensions have reached a fever pitch at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities in recent days as the demonstrations have worn on.

Meanwhile, Republicans nationally have seized upon a reluctance from university presidents to call out antisemitism on their campuses in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. The dynamic gained steam in December, when a group of university presidents testified before a congressional committee. Rep. Elise Stefanik, the GOP conference chair, pressed the administrators at the hearing on how they have handled antisemitic incidents on their campuses.

Since then, Stefanik has led the charge among Republicans, pushing for the resignation of the university leaders. The presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard have already resigned. And last week, Columbia’s president became the latest to testify before Congress. 

Johnson’s visit to the campus further elevates the issue, and marks the latest in a series of visits from lawmakers this week. Every Republican member of New York’s congressional delegation has called for Columbia’s president to resign.

In a letter earlier this week, the group of 10 New York Republicans, which includes Stefanik, Malliotakis and Lawler, called on Shafik to step aside, saying the recent events on the campus and Shafik’s testimony before Congress left them with “no confidence” in the president’s leadership.

“The ongoing situation that has unfolded is a direct symptom of your continued lax enforcement of policy and clear double standards,” the letter says. “While the rot is systemic, the responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders.”

Nikole Killion contributed reporting.

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