Johnson: ‘There is an appropriate time’ for National Guard if student protesters don’t disperse

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday said there could come a time when the National Guard is needed to quell pro-Palestine protests at Columbia University and other universities experiencing unrest.

The comments from Johnson came during a combative press conference the Speaker held with Republican lawmakers at Columbia University in New York City, during which they called on pro-Palestine protesters who have set up an encampment on campus to disperse and denounced the alleged antisemitism percolating through campus — all while the crowd heckled the group.

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

Johnson said he planned to call Biden after his visit to the campus to “share with him what we have seen with our own two eyes and demand that he take action,” arguing that “there is executive authority that’d be appropriate.”

Johnson’s statements came after Republican Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) on Monday called on Biden to deploy the National Guard to colleges across the country — especially Columbia — to end sit-ins and other demonstrations staged by pro-Palestinian protesters.

One day later, Cotton and 26 other GOP senators sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Attorney General Merrick Garland urging them to “restore order to campuses that have been effectively shut down by anti-Semitic mobs that are targeting Jewish students.”

Biden denounced the demonstrations at Columbia University, saying Monday he condemns both the “antisemitic protests” and “those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians,” before getting cut off.

Wednesday’s press conference with Johnson and other GOP lawmakers — Reps. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), Mike Lawler (N.Y.), Anthony D’Esposito (N.Y.) and Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.) — was the latest instance of congressional lawmakers visiting Columbia’s campus amid pro-Palestine protests and allegations of antisemitism.

Johnson called on Columbia President Minouche Shafik to resign from her post — he met with her minutes before the public event — saying she should step down “if she cannot immediately bring order to this chaos.”

“We met briefly with the president and her top officials right before we came out on the steps here. We encouraged her to take immediate action and stamp this out. And our feeling is that they have not acted to restore order on the campus,” Johnson said at another point in the press conference.

“This is dangerous. This is not free expression, this is not First Amendment — they are threatening, intimidating, saying that they will take violence upon Jewish students,” he continued. “We met with Jewish students who are in fear. They can’t come on campus, they can’t study for their final exams. This affects everybody’s lives, and it affects the image that we portray to the world. This is not who we are as Americans.”

He also suggested that the House may move to cut off federal funding for colleges that do not provide a safe environment for Jewish students.

“If these campuses cannot get control of this problem they do not deserve taxpayer dollars. That’s a very serious issue,” Johnson said when asked what the House will do to address the antisemitism when lawmakers return to Washington next week.

“You’ve seen our Education and Workforce Committee having oversight hearings. We have brought the presidents of these universities to Congress to testify under oath, and you’ve seen accountability begun there. There’ll be much more of that. We’ll continue to work on legislation to adjust this at the federal level,” he added.

“This Congress — and I genuinely believe there’s bipartisan agreement on this — will stand for what is good and what is right. And it does not matter who shouts in our faces. We’re gonna do what is right by America. We respect free speech. We respect diversity of ideas. But there is a way to do that in a lawful manner, and that’s not what this is.”

The Republicans themselves were met with heckling as they denounced the demonstrations on Wednesday, with individuals in the crowd booing the group, chanting “we can’t hear you,” “Mike you suck” and “get the f— out of here.”

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