House Speaker Mike Johnson, supported by other congressmembers, spoke on Low Steps Wednesday afternoon to address ongoing protests and President Shafik’s handling of events.

At a press conference scheduled for 3:45 pm, Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson (R-LA) emerged on Low Steps at 4:01 pm, alongside Representatives Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) and Mike Lawler (R-NY). Johnson, Foxx, Malliotakis, D’Esposito, and Lawler are some of several politicians who have come to Columbia’s campus, many of whom are seeking reelection to the House this year.

In a Wednesday press briefing, Columbia spokesperson Ben Chang stated that President Shafik met with representatives before they approached Low Steps for their press conference.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson opened the press conference by calling on President Shafik to “resign if she cannot immediately bring order to this chaos,” referring to the recent student protests. His statement was met by a crowd of booing spectators. He stated that “Congress will not be silent as Jewish students are expected to run for their lives and stay home from their classes and hiding in fear.” 

Johnson then praised Columbia and its historical ties to the founders of the United States, using those connections to emphasize his understanding of their beliefs of “democracy, morality, virtue, dignity of every person.” Johnson proceeded to characterize the protesters as “overtaken by radical, extreme ideology” that were “placing targets” on Jewish students. He further claimed that the student protesters were in “support of terrorists.” Chants of “We can’t hear you” from the crowd began to rise, to which he responded, “Enjoy your free speech” with a smirk, garnering a laugh from his fellow congressmembers. 

He continued by criticizing the University’s decision to move to virtual classes on Monday and optional hybrid learning for the remainder of the semester, saying that “this hybrid model” was the administration’s way to “discriminate against Jewish students [who were] not allowed to come to class anymore for fear of their lives.” 

Johnson then spoke about events beyond Columbia’s gates, stating that the “virus of antisemitism has spread to other universities,” and proceeded to describe the encampments at other universities around the country, including Yale and New York University. Given the widespread nature of ongoing protests, Johnson criticized the lack of action from those in power, adding that “powerful people have refused to condemn it, and some have even peddled it themselves.” 

Johnson alleged that other public officials have refused to condemn Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel; however, he did not specify which congresspeople have refused to do so. 

Returning to Shafik’s response, Johnson claimed that the administration had “let the fear and intimidation of the mob rule… overtake American principles like free speech and the free exchange of ideas and the free exercise of religion” and were “incapable… of keeping students safe.” He concluded his speech by demanding that “those who are perpetrating violence… be arrested” and that Shafik resign “immediately,” promising that “Congress will not be silent.” Johnson did not refer to a specific incidence of violence; it is unclear what violent event he referenced. As of the publishing of this article, there have been no reports of physical violence at the Gaza Solidarity Encampment. 

Johnson then turned it over to Representative Virginia Foxx, Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Foxx was the chair of the April 17 congressional hearing on antisemitism. She began by stating that “Columbia University is in a free fall,” explaining that “the [Education and Workforce] Committee has uncovered key failures in the administration’s response to the antisemitic attacks and displays embroiling this campus.” Foxx claimed that this includes “false testimony regarding the removal of Professor Joseph Massad. During last Wednesday’s congressional hearing, President Shafik testified that Professor Joseph Massad had been “removed” from his chairmanship of the Academic Review Committee. That night, Professor Massad released a statement reporting that he had not been removed from the year-long position that was set to end by the academic year’s finish. 

Foxx at the podium with (left to right) Mallotakis, Lawler, D’Esposito, and Johnson

Foxx also claimed that a “key failure” of the administration was the suspension of “two Jewish students for a made-up chemical attack.” No confirmations have been made on the exact substance sprayed at students during the January 19 protest; students were hospitalized as a result of their exposure. 

Foxx concluded with a message to the administration: “The inmates are running the asylum. Take back control of this once-great institution. 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.”

While onlookers chanted “Free, free Palestine,” Johnson introduced Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, who began with, “Welcome to New York,” which was met with some laughs from the speakers. She then praised Johnson for “his leadership… to condemn the antisemitism allowed to fester on this campus.” Malliotakis continued by listing claims from students who allegedly experienced harassment and antisemitic behavior, including one claim that students have “had to walk the halls of this campus to see swastikas painted.” This claim about swastikas appearing on campus remains unconfirmed by Bwog. Malliotakis concluded with a condemnation of the Columbia administration, saying, “It’s clear that the president of this University cannot control the campus.” 

Mallotakis ceded the stand to Representative Anthony D’Esposito, who spoke during a press conference outside Columbia’s campus on Monday. He started by saying, “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,” to which the crowd responded with boos and shouts of disapproval. The claim that protesters have been “endorsed by Hamas” has yet to be verified by Bwog. D’Esposito, too, called for Shafik’s immediate resignation, as she had “failed her duty” by “not keeping students safe.” 

Congressman Mike Lawler, who also spoke during the Monday press conference, approached the podium. He proceeded to call for the freedom of Palestinians “from their oppressor Hamas,” and called protesters’ actions “an abomination and shameful,” stating that “if you [the protesters] want a ceasefire… release the hostages,” which was then interjected with chants of “Free Palestine” from the crowd. Lawler continued his criticism of Shafik, calling for her to resign “in disgrace,” while reiterating Johnson’s statements that she had “lost control” of the University and threatening that “if the institution will not act [to keep students safe], Congress has a responsibility to do so, and [they] will.” 

Mike Johnson then returned for questioning from the press while people resumed to chant, “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest.” First, WKCR asked about the anti-Zionist Jewish students who held a Shabbat service inside the Encampment. Johnson did not refer to the anti-Zionist Jewish students in his response, but stated the representatives encouraged President Shafik and her “top officials” to take immediate action during the aforementioned meeting.  

Johnson stated he still does not feel as if they have taken appropriate action to “restore order on the campus.” He claimed the Encampment is “not freedom of expression,” but “threatening” and “intimidating,” accusing protesters of “saying they will take violence upon Jewish students.” Bwog has not identified an instance where members of the Encampment have stated this. Johnson then remarked,“We met with Jewish students who are in fear; they cannot come to campus, they cannot study for their finals… this affects everybody’s life.” 

The next question was about reports of University administration calling the National Guard on student demonstrators, to which he announced he was planning on calling President Biden after the conference, explaining what he has seen on campus, and demanding he take action as an executive authority. “We cannot allow this to happen across the country; we are better than this,” he said.

Johnson was questioned about what the House could do, and he claimed that there have been talks of cutting federal funding. “If campuses cannot get control of this problem, they do not deserve taxpayer dollars. That’s a very serious issue.” According to the National Center for Science and Statistics, the US federal government provides about $904 million in governmental funding to Columbia each year for research and development alone. This funding goes towards University labs, including research in the Columbia Medical Campus. He also mentioned bringing university presidents to Congress, such as Shafik herself last week, to hold them accountable. Johnson attested his belief in the existence of  “bipartisan agreement” on cutting federal funding, and “[Congress] will stand for what is good and right by America.” 

Following Johnson’s claim, he affirmed his respect for free speech and diversity of ideas. Johnson attested that college campuses are a place for respectful debate and difference of opinion, but “[the protesters are] intimidating, shouting down people [they] disagree with. [They] cannot censor and silence what [they] disagree with. That is not American. [They] do not understand what it means to respect the First Amendment.”

When asked his message to the students inside the Encampment, he said they should “go back to class” and “stop the nonsense.” He also agreed with Mike Lawler and repeated, “Stop wasting your parents’ money,” while laughing. 

A WKCR reporter then repeated the original question about the anti-Zionist Jewish students protesting, to which Johnson responded, “I don’t know who’s in that camp over there, but this is unacceptable and the American people are demanding accountability for it.” Despite further questions, Johnson ended the conference, walking back up Low steps to a chorus of boos and cheers. 

Johnson and fellow congresspeople via Alison Hog