House speaker to visit Columbia University, call for president's resignation

Washington — House Speaker Mike Johnson is visiting Columbia University on Wednesday, where he’s expected to call for the university’s president to resign as the campus has been roiled with accusations of antisemitism amid ongoing pro-Palestinian protests.

Johnson said in an interview on “The Hugh Hewitt” show Wednesday morning that he plans to call on Columbia University President Minouche Shafik to resign, saying Shafik “has shown to be a very weak, inept leader.” GOP Reps. Mike Lawler and Nicole Malliotakis of New York are slated to join the speaker on Wednesday. 

The speaker’s remarks are set to focus on “the troubling rise of virulent antisemitism on America’s college campuses,” according to a statement from his office. He’s set to speak Wednesday afternoon, after meeting with Jewish students. 

The visit comes as college campuses continue to be roiled by protests and tensions related to the Israel-Hamas war, as many of the protests are seeking that the universities divest financial holdings in Israel. At Columbia University, demonstrators have taken over a portion of the New York City campus, creating an encampment as the protests have persisted for a week. 

University leaders have been toeing a line on how to express disdain about antisemitic language and enforce university policies while also allowing students to practice free speech, as they face accusations that colleges are not doing enough to protect Jewish students. And tensions have reached a fever pitch at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities in recent days as the demonstrations have worn on.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks following a briefing with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the U.S. Capitol on February 15, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks following a briefing with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the U.S. Capitol on February 15, 2024 in Washington, DC. 

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Republicans nationally have seized upon a reluctance from university presidents to call out antisemitism on their campuses in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. The dynamic gained steam in December, when a group of university presidents testified before a congressional committee. Rep. Elise Stefanik, the GOP conference chair, pressed the administrators at the hearing on how they have handled antisemitic incidents on their campuses.

Since then, Stefanik has led the charge among Republicans, pushing for the resignation of the university leaders. The presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard have already resigned. And last week, Columbia’s president became the latest to testify before Congress. 

Johnson’s visit to the campus further elevates the issue, and marks the latest in a series of visits from lawmakers this week. Meanwhile, every Republican member of New York’s congressional delegation has called for Columbia’s president to resign.

In a letter earlier this week, the group of 10 New York Republicans, which includes Stefanik, Malliotakis and Lawler, called on Shafik to resign, saying the recent events on the campus and Shafik’s testimony before Congress left them with “no confidence” in the president’s leadership.

“The ongoing situation that has unfolded is a direct symptom of your continued lax enforcement of policy and clear double standards,” the letter says. “While the rot is systemic, the responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders.”

Nikole Killion contributed reporting.

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