McConnell says university presidents need to “get control of the situation” amid protests

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took a measured approach Thursday on how to handle the pro-Palestinian demonstrations erupting on university campuses, saying he’d wait to see if university presidents “can get control of the situation” before taking more forceful measures. 

McConnell made the comments in an interview with “Face the Nation” moderator and chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan. 

Demonstrations against U.S. support to Israel have erupted at campuses nationwide, notably at Ivy League institutions Columbia University and Yale University, which have been roiled by accusations of antisemitism. Protesters have been arrested on both of those campuses. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson met with Jewish students at Columbia University on Wednesday, and although he was greeted with loud boos, he told CBS News it was time to call in the National Guard. After protests at the University of Texas at Austin, the Texas National Guard said it was “aware and prepared” to respond to protests on Wednesday that led to dozens of arrests. Gov. Greg Abbott says he believes “all of the protesters” belong in jail. 

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Margaret Brennan interviews Mitch McConnell on “Face the Nation” on April 25, 2025.  CBS News

Brennan asked McConnell if he agrees with Johnson, Abbott and their allies.  

“Well here’s the way I look at it,” McConnell responded. “The First Amendment is important but it doesn’t give you the ability to claim there’s a fire going on in the theater because it threatens everyone else. What needs to happen, at least at the beginning, is these university presidents need to get control of the situation, allow free speech, and push back against antisemitism. I thought that was largely gone in this country, but we’ve seen a number of young people who are actually antisemitic. Why don’t they all sit down and have a civil conversation rather than trying to dominate the talk? And I think the first line of defense is these university presidents.”

Brennan pushed McConnell to clarify whether he wouldn’t call for the National Guard to intervene at this point. 

“Let’s see if these university presidents can get control of the situation,” McConnell reiterated. “They ought to be able to do that. Civil discussion is what college education is supposed to be about. I’d be interested in hearing the antisemitic people explain the justification for that kind of talk.” 

McConnell’s GOP counterpart in the House, Johnson, said Wednesday that he met briefly with Columbia University president Nemat Shafik and other top university officials. After that, Johnson, steps from Columbia University campus, called for Shafik to resign if she can’t immediately bring an end to the protests. 

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

Watch more of the interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on “Face the Nation.” 

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