May 2, 2024 - News

House GOP criticizes D.C.'s handling of GW campus encampment

Signs reading "Divest from death" and "Divest now" hang at George Washington University's encampment of student protestors.

Signs seen last week at GW's encampment. Photo: Allison Bailey/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

A Republican-led House committee is planning to hold a hearing next week scrutinizing D.C. officials for not clearing a pro-Palestinian encampment at George Washington University.

Why it matters: It's part of a larger effort by House Republicans to crack down on the demonstrations erupting at college campuses across the country.

Driving the news: The hearing, first reported by the GW Hatchet, will be held next Wednesday, a committee spokesperson confirmed to Axios.

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Pamela Smith are being invited to testify, the spokesperson said.

Several Republicans on the committee also met with GW leadership and visited the encampment yesterday.

  • "Our message here today is that help is on the way," Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) told a Hatchet reporter. "We're going to use every legislative authority we have to ensure the Metro Police Department is protecting students here at George Washington."

State of play: The GW encampment sprang up last week after similar protests broke out at Columbia University and other colleges to protest Israel's war effort in Gaza. Over 100 tents are currently occupying GW's University Yard and part of H Street NW.

  • D.C. police reportedly ignored requests from GW officials to clear protesters from the encampment last week, per the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, several GW students have been suspended; no protesters have been arrested.

  • More than 100 GW faculty members have signed a statement asking the university to rescind the suspensions and to meet with student protesters about their requests.

What they're saying: Comer said his panel is "deeply concerned" that D.C. police "rejected George Washington University's request for help in removing" the encampment.

  • "MPD's refusal to assist GW in their efforts to protect the Jewish student body is disturbing and unacceptable," he said, vowing to "seek answers from local leaders on steps being taken to ensure this unlawful activity ends."

Plus, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) sent a letter to Bowser criticizing D.C. police's decision not to clear the encampment, writing, "Your actions are a good reminder of why Washington, D.C. must never become a state."

The other side: Bowser said she is in "constant communication with GW officials." She declined to specify what she discussed with them in a meeting on Tuesday.

  • "I haven't ever turned down requests for help. We support all of our employers, all of our universities," Bowser said, adding that the Metropolitan Police Department will enforce "the laws of the District of Columbia."
  • GWU's campus police is taking the lead on the response, MPD said in a statement.
  • "MPD will continue to monitor this First Amendment activity, both on and off GWU property," the department said. "This activity has remained peaceful."

Zoom in: The group GW for Israel is gathering signatures on a petition to Bowser and Smith urging them to remove protesters, as the group believes the encampment "has become home to virulent antisemitic chants, rhetoric, posters, and actions" and "poses a direct threat to Jewish and Israeli students."

  • The group also plans to host a rally today against campus antisemitism.

What we're watching: GW's final exams begin Saturday and commencement is slated to take place May 19 on the National Mall.

  • GW spokespeople declined to share information with Axios regarding any potential commencement changes due to the protests.
  • "We are committed to ensuring that important moments in our students' educational journeys, including finals and Commencement, may happen safely and appropriately," reads an official statement from GW President Ellen M. Granberg and Provost Christopher Alan Bracey.

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