Republicans seize on student protests, demand Biden squash pro-Palestine speech with National Guard

Republicans who backed the January 6 insurrection now want the government to break up pro-Palestine protests

Published April 23, 2024 3:09PM (EDT)

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Republican lawmakers are seeking to exploit turmoil on college campuses for political gain, some now demanding that President Joe Biden deploy soldiers to break up pro-Palestine protests.

The student protest at Columbia began April 17 with an on-campus encampment, organizers associated with Columbia University Apartheid Divest accusing the university of investing in companies that do business that "profit from Israeli apartheid," as ABC News reported. Dr. Minouche Shafik, president of Columbia University, last week called in the NYPD to clear out the students, a decision made after she was grilled by Republicans earlier this month on the school's response to alleged antisemitism on campus.

Although police made roughly a hundred arrests, an NYPD official later described the protest as "peaceful." Students at other schools, including Yale University and New York University, have since begun protests in solidarity. At the same time, Jewish groups have been pressing the university to take more steps to protect Jewish students against antisemitism. 

At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Dr. Shafik faced criticism from Republicans who maintained that she wasn't doing enough to combat antisemitism on campus. That criticism was followed by last week's crackdown, with Columbia's Special Committee on Campus Safety citing some protesters' "threatening rhetoric and intimidation."

Now 10 Republican members of Congress have written a letter to Dr. Shafik telling her to resign. In the letter, sent Monday, they claim that she has “failed” in her obligations as the president and that the happenings on campus were a “direct” result of her ineptitude. 

Calling the protest an “unsanctioned mob of students and agitators,” the representatives, including New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, wrote that Shafik should "step down immediately so that someone will take action against this mob."

Other Republicans are demanding that the federal government step in.

“If [Mayor] Eric Adams won’t send the NYPD and [Gov.] Kathy Hochul won’t send the National Guard, Joe Biden has a duty to take charge and break up these mobs," Sen. Tom Cotton said in a post on X.

Four years ago, Cotton wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times calling for the mobilization of the National Guard to combat Black Lives Matter protests. And just a week ago, Cotton implored his X followers to attack pro-Palestine protesters who blocked traffic.

His call for a federal crackdown on protests was echoed this week by fellow Republican Sen. Josh Hawley. "It’s time for Biden to call out the National Guard at our universities to protect Jewish Americans," Hawley wrote on X.

In the meantime, cooler heads are trying to de-escalate, with Columbia announcing Monday night that is moving to allow remote through the end of the semester, April 29.

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