Citing antisemitism, House Republicans take aim at universities’ funding, tax exemptions and visas


WASHINGTON (JTA) — House Republicans plan to massively expand oversight of universities that they allege are rife with antisemitism, a tactic that the party sees as opportune in an election year.

Rep. Mike Johnson, the Louisiana Republican who is speaker, announced the plans Tuesday at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol, where he was flanked by the Republican leadership and the chairs of six committees.

The presence of the committee chairs signaled the leadership’s intent to target funding for universities, their tax exempt status and even visas for overseas students.

“We have to act and House Republicans will speak to this fateful moment with moral clarity,” said Johnson, who traveled last week to Columbia University in New York City, an epicenter of the protests, to condemn the protests and call for the resignation of the university president.

Notably, Johnson did not invite Democrats to the press conference, even though a number of Democrats have also been sharply critical of how universities have handled recent anti-Israel protests. Johnson’s press conference came just hours before the Biden administration condemned some of the protests and underscored the partisan nature of Johnson’s initiative.

“We really wish those in the White House would do the same,” he said. “We will not allow antisemitism to thrive on campus and we will hold these universities accountable for their failure to protect Jewish students on campus.”

Most of the committees represented during the press conference have a say in how universities are funded. They include the education committee; the science committee, which oversees the National Science Foundation, which delivers grants to universities; the commerce and energy committee, which oversees agencies that dole out grants; and the ways and means committee, which oversees the Internal Revenue Service.

Republicans in Congress have already collected heads. Two Republican lawmakers on an influential congressional panel about antisemitism were on the podium: Reps. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who chairs the education committee, and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, whose questions during an explosive hearing in December about whether the presidents would tolerate calls for genocide on their campuses ultimately led to their departures.

The committee chairs. made clear that funding was on their minds, each rattling off figures of grants that universities get from the federal government.

“Funding through NSF accounts for about 25% of all federal support to America’s colleges and universities for basic research,” said Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, who chairs the science committee.

“As a part of the conditions of receiving taxpayer dollars through the NSF, universities must comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin,” he said. “Schools like Columbia and U.C. Berkeley annually received more than $50 million each in an NSF grants. It’s time we review whether universities that allow the harassment, assault or intimidation of their Jewish students are in compliance with their federal obligations.”

Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri said his staff were examining “the nexus between antisemitism, tax exempt universities and terror financing networks” and had produced hundreds of pages of documents, but he did not say whether there was evidence of any such connection.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the chairman of the judiciary committee, said he wanted to know how many of the protesters were on student visas, and what steps the Biden administration has taken to deport those who have committed alleged crimes. “Have you started removal proceedings?” he said was a question he wanted answered.

Johnson said the Biden administration was neglecting the issue, although Biden’s Education Department has opened up dozens of investigations of alleged campus antisemitism. Republicans see an opportunity to target Democrats over divisions in the party about Biden’s backing for Israel in its war against Hamas.

Asked why he was focusing only on universities and not on multiple manifestations of antisemitism that stem from the far right, which antisemitism watchdogs have said poses the more deadly threat, Johnson emphasized that the universities have not done an adequate job.

State and local law enforcement have acted “appropriately” to contain what he called “radical fringe groups on the right and left to who do crazy things and say crazy things,” he said. Universities, he said, are not controlling their campuses.

“What’s happening on the campuses, though, especially these private,  these Ivy League universities, is that they are not allowing law enforcement to come in,” Johnson said. “They’re not inviting them to do their job and bring order to the chaos. Those are the policy changes that we’re demanding. And if they don’t correct course quickly, you will see Congress respond. In time you’re going to see funding sources begin to dry up, you’re going to see every level of accountability that we can muster.”

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