Johnson, GOP lawmakers heckled at combative Columbia event

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Republican lawmakers were repeatedly and loudly heckled during a combative press conference at Columbia University on Wednesday as they gathered to condemn antisemitism and the pro-Palestine demonstrations taking place on campus.

Johnson — joined by GOP Reps. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), Mike Lawler (N.Y.), Anthony D’Esposito (N.Y.) and Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.) — traveled to the Manhattan campus, where pro-Palestine protesters are refusing to leave their encampment until the school agrees to divest from Israel and companies associated with its war effort against Hamas.

The GOP lawmakers were met with shouts of “boo” right when they walked to the podium for their press conference and were frequently drowned out by protesters as they denounced the treatment of Jewish students on campus and addressed student demonstrators directly.

“The cherished traditions of this university are being overtaken right now by radical and extreme ideologies,” Johnson said. “They place a target on the backs of Jewish students in the United States here on this campus. A growing number of students have chanted in support of terrorists. They have chased down Jewish students. They have mocked them and reviled them. They have shouted racial epithets. They have screamed at those who bear the Star of David.”

As Johnson spoke, chants of “we can’t hear you” broke out in the crowd.

“Enjoy your free speech,” Johnson responded.

At another point, D’Esposito told students that “If you are a protester on this campus, and you are proud that you’ve been endorsed by Hamas, you are part of the problem.” Lawler said “the fastest way for a cease-fire to occur is for Hamas to surrender and to release the hostages. And if you can’t call for that, you are a pathetic embarrassment to this institution and to students everywhere.”

Both remarks were met with shouts from the crowd.

When the Speaker said “anti-Israel encampments are popping up at universities all across this country,” the crowd also let out a loud cacophony of shouts and boos.

At one point, shouts of “Mike you suck” and “get the f‑‑‑ out of here” were heard as Johnson spoke.

Johnson was the latest House lawmaker to travel to Columbia’s campus this week as both protests against Israel’s war in Gaza and accusations of antisemitism grow.

Earlier this week, the university announced that it would shift to hybrid learning for the remainder of the semester as the protests continued.

The switch came after an Orthodox rabbi at Columbia University and Barnard College told Jewish students to “return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved,” according to a WhatsApp message posted on the social platform X by CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Asked what his message is to the students inside the encampment, Johnson told them to “go back to class.”

“My message to the students inside the encampment is go back to class and stop the nonsense,” Johnson said. “Look, if we want to have a debate on campus about the merits of these things, let’s do that. But you can’t intimidate your fellow students and make them stay home from class.”

D’Esposito chimed in behind Johnson, telling the protesters to “stop wasting your parents’ money.”

“I think that’s right,” Johnson said in response, repeating D’Esposito’s call.

Johnson on Wednesday also joined his New York GOP colleagues in calling on Columbia University President Minouche Shafik to resign from her post, a request that was met with loud boos from the crowd.

“I am here today joining my colleagues in calling on President Shafik to resign if she cannot immediately bring order to this chaos,” he said. “As Speaker of the House, I am committing today that the Congress will not be silent as Jewish students are expected to run for their lives and stay home from their classes hiding in fear.”

The request came after Johnson met with the president, a gathering that took place shortly before his press conference.

“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. This is dangerous,” Johnson said.

“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.”

Updated at 7:45 p.m. EST.

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