Apr 29, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Democrats turn up the heat on Columbia University

Reps. Jared Moskowitz, Kathy Manning, Josh Gottheimer and Dan Goldman standing in front of a glass building behind a House of Representatives podium.

Reps. Jared Moskowitz, Kathy Manning, Josh Gottheimer and Dan Goldman speak in front of the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life at Columbia University in New York City, New York, on April 22, 2024. Photo: Andrew Solender/Axios.

Columbia University's board is facing new pressure from a group of House Democrats to "act decisively" and end an ongoing pro-Palestinian encampment on its campus or resign, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Calls for Columbia officials to resign have largely been confined to the GOP, making this a major escalation in Democrats' rhetoric on the high-profile demonstration.

Driving the news: In a letter to the university's board of trustees, 21 House Democrats wrote of their "disappointment that, despite promises to do so, Columbia University has not yet disbanded the unauthorized and impermissible encampment of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish activists on campus."

  • The group, led by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) called to "disband the encampment, and ensure the safety and security of all of its students."
  • "If any Trustees are unwilling to do this, they should resign so that they can be replaced by individuals who will uphold the University's legal obligations under Title VI," the lawmakers added.

Zoom in: The letter was mostly signed by moderate and swing-district members, including 10 Jewish lawmakers.

  • Among the signers is Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the former House majority leader.
  • A Columbia University spokesperson declined to comment on the letter.

Context: The encampment, made to protest Israel's war effort in Gaza, was erected as Columbia president Nemat "Minouche" Shafik was testifying to Congress earlier this month about campus antisemitism.

State of play: Columbia officials are currently attempting to negotiate a resolution with the encampment organizers — talks the university said were "ongoing" as of Saturday.

  • But activists involved in the encampment reportedly said Friday that little progress had been made, and the university has punted on deadlines for a deal to come together.
  • "After nearly a week of negotiations, it is now abundantly clear that the students and activists entrenched on campus are unwilling to enter into a reasonable agreement to disband," the Democratic lawmakers wrote.

The other side: Several high-profile progressives have gone to college campuses in and around their districts to show their support for the demonstrators.

  • Most recently, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), both members of the progressive "Squad," visited Columbia on Friday.
  • "The provocative images painted by Republicans and antisemitic white supremacist platforms could not be further from the truth," Bowman said in a statement.

What to watch: The protests at Columbia and other universities are likely to take center stage as Congress returns to session on Monday.

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