Johnson calls on Columbia University president to resign during tense news conference

Originally Published: 24 APR 24 16:56 ET
Updated: 24 APR 24 19:55 ET

(CNN) — House Speaker Mike Johnson called on Columbia University’s president to resign Wednesday during a tense news conference where the crowd repeatedly interrupted the speaker and at times loudly booed him and other GOP lawmakers who were with him as they stood at the microphones.

“We just can’t allow this kind of hatred and antisemitism to flourish on our campuses, and it must be stopped in its tracks. Those who are perpetrating this violence should be arrested. I am here today joining my colleagues, and calling on President Shafik to resign if she cannot immediately bring order to this chaos,” Johnson said Wednesday.

Johnson visited Columbia University on Wednesday to meet with Jewish students and delivered remarks with other Republican lawmakers. When Johnson and the GOP lawmakers walked up to begin speaking, there were loud boos.

During the question-and-answer portion, a coordinated chant of “Mike, you suck” erupted from the crowd. At another point during the remarks, the crowd started chanting loudly, to which Johnson said, “Enjoy your free speech.”

The timing of Johnson’s visit comes as the embattled speaker is facing an onslaught of conservative criticism and as a handful of members, led by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, have threatened to oust him. The pressure Johnson is under has only intensified after he helped steer a foreign aid package through the House that included assistance to Ukraine, which many hardline conservatives vehemently opposed.

Following the tense news conference, Johnson defended his appearance at Columbia in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, saying he chose to get involved in what was unfolding on the school’s campus because the “speaker speaks for the House of Representatives.

“I felt it was very important for that voice to be heard, not just about what happens in Columbia, but about what is happening right now around the country,” he said on “OutFront.” “We have to stand unequivocally for the right and the good and I’m calling on all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to speak out against this, not to endorse it, not to coddle these people, but to say this has to stop.”

When pressed about the heckling, Johnson noted that he was “not surprised that they didn’t welcome our visit because we’re calling out their activities.”

His visit to the campus earned some plaudits from his detractors inside the GOP, with Republicans rallying around the speaker after his remarks were interrupted by protestors.

GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, who has been publicly critical of Johnson’s leadership, wrote on X: “I’ve had my strong disagreements on spending / foreign aid – but I applaud @SpeakerJohnson for going to Columbia.”

Johnson said at the news conference he met with Shafik and asked her to take immediate action to address the unrest.

“We met briefly with the president and her top officials right before we came out on the steps here. We encouraged her to take immediate action and stamp this out and our feeling is that they have not acted to restore order on the campus,” he said.

Johnson also said he would call President Joe Biden immediately after departing and demand he take action, not ruling out the need for the National Guard to step in at some point.

“My intention is to call President Biden after we leave here and share with him what we have seen with our own two eyes and 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,” he said. “We have to bring order to these campuses.”

Johnson under pressure as he faces ouster threat

Johnson has defended his leadership in the face of the growing threats, saying that he will not resign and warning that a vote to oust him could cause chaos in the House.

In recent days, Johnson appears to be trying to quell his opposition by realigning himself with causes and positions that motivate the GOP base. Johnson stepped in Tuesday to ensure that Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, who just last week asked Johnson to resign in a closed-door conference meeting, would not be fined $500 for sharing a video that included footage of the House floor, something forbidden under the chamber’s rules.

“Upon viewing Rep. Massie’s tweet, our team reached out to the Sergeant at Arms. I do not agree with this assessment and there will be no fine imposed on Rep. Massie,” Johnson posted on X Tuesday.

Johnson has also resisted calls to oust three conservatives from the House Rules Committee after Republican members, including Massie, Roy and Ralph Norman of South Carolina, voted against advancing the supplemental package last week. The committee is typically seen as an important tool for GOP leaders to move ahead with their agenda, but when those members voted against advancing the package, it required Democrats to step in to help get the bill to the floor.

Johnson told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt in an interview Wednesday that removing colleagues from that committee could have longer lasting effects.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Melanie Zanona and Piper Hudspeth Blackburn contributed to this report.

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