Apr 24, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Mike Johnson's trip to Columbia met with brutal hostility

Rep. Mike Johnson, wearing a blue suit, surrounded by GOP colleagues and press on the steps of Columbia's Low Library.

House Speaker Mike Johnson and four other House Republicans at Columbia University on April 24, 2024. Photo: Yuki Iwamura/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and a contingent of his Republican House colleagues faced a venomous response to their Columbia University visit on Wednesday – both on and off campus.

Why it matters: Several prominent New York Democrats accused Johnson of "politicizing" the chaotic pro-Palestinian protests that have rocked Columbia for over a week.

  • New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters that "bringing the entourage to put a spotlight on this is only adding to the division."
  • Progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said in a statement the visit is "another tactic in the right-wing's attack on our educational institutions" and an "attempt to silence anti-war and pro-Palestinian sentiment."

Zoom in: Johnson and Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), Anthony D'Esposito (R-N.Y.) and Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) were booed and heckled for nearly the entire 18 minutes of their press conference on the steps of Columbia's Low Library.

  • At various points, Columbia students in the crowd chanted "Mike, you suck," "free, free Palestine" and "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."
  • Due to much of the crowd's inability to hear the lawmakers speak, they also faced chants of "we can't hear you" and scattered heckles of "grandstand louder" and "speak up, you piece of s***!"
  • "How does it feel knowing your own party's going to vote you out," one heckler shouted at Johnson.

The other side: "It does not matter who shouts in our faces, we are going to do what's right by America," Johnson said in response to the hecklers.

  • Pointing to the encampment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators on Columbia's campus, Johnson added: "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."
  • Johnson joined GOP calls for Columbia University President Minouche Shafik to step down and said he plans to call President Biden to "demand that he take action."
  • "There is executive authority that would be appropriate. 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 added.

Zoom out: Johnson's visit marks 10 members of Congress who have trekked to Columbia from as far away as North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana in the last three days over alleged antisemitism and threats to Jewish students.

  • A group of four Jewish House Democrats visited the college on Monday, with Lawler and D'Esposito holding a press conference just blocks away.
Go deeper