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House Oversight Committee Republicans visit U-Yard encampment

Daniel Heuer | Assistant Photo Editor

Six Republican members of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee visited the pro-Palestinian encampment in University Yard on Wednesday, where they called on D.C. officials to arrest protesters involved in the demonstration.

Committee Chair James Comer (R-KY) and Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), William Timmons (R-SC), Byron Donalds (R-FL) and Eric Burlison (R-MO) met with GW officials, walked through the encampment and then held a press conference on H Street where they lambasted D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and local police for reportedly rejecting GW’s request to clear the encampment. The members’ visit comes after the committee called on Bowser and MPD Chief Pamela Smith on Wednesday to testify next week following their reported refusal to sweep U-Yard and H Street.

Students from eight D.C. universities, including GW, have camped in U-Yard for a week to protest the war in Gaza and call for their universities’ divestment from Israel and protection of pro-Palestinian students. More than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by the Israeli military since the start of the war, many of whom are women and children.

“The University president explicitly told us in a briefing they do not want these encampments on their campus,” Comer said during the press conference.

Several members of the House committee entered GW’s administrative offices at 1922 F Street via the 20th Street side entrance at about 1:55 p.m. Wednesday. After meeting with University officials, including University President Ellen Granberg, the members drove from the office to the Gelman Library Starbucks, where they gathered before walking down H Street to tour the U-Yard and H Street encampments.

On the walk, Comer told a Hatchet reporter that he was “not happy” with MPD’s refusal to clear the encampment, characterizing it as “trespassing.”

He said the committee members chose to visit GW because Congress has legislative authority over D.C. and will take actions to maintain “law and order.” Comer did not specify what steps Congress might take if Bowser and Smith choose not to testify before the committee next week.

Congress has authority over D.C.’s local affairs due to the District’s lack of statehood, including its ability to modify, overturn or impose legislation. Congress most recently intervened into D.C.’s affairs when it repealed a D.C. crime bill last spring.

When asked why she and her colleagues on the Oversight Committee are honing in on GW’s contention with law enforcement, Paulina Luna said, “In Florida, we know how to handle these things.”

Police presence multiplied as protesters crowded the area in anticipation of the of the members’ arrival. As the members entered through the encampment, they were greeted by protesters holding a black sign stating “Hands Off DC” in yellow letters. Demonstrators booed and an sang accapella rendition of Darth Vader’s theme song, “The Imperial March.” They chanted “Beetlejuice” in reference to Boebert’s sexual misconduct during a performance of the show.

Inching further into the encampment, the conservative members were surrounded by a shoulder-to-shoulder pack of more than 30 press and community members, as one organizer banged on drums and chanted “Free, free Palestine” in the backdrop.

During a press conference in H Street outside the U-Yard encampment following the walk-through, more than 100 demonstrators chanted in unison over Boebert, who used a megaphone to speak over them.

“The mayor must step up and do something to clear this,” Boebert said over the chants. “This is not the summer of love and we are not bowing a knee to the terrorists who cause riots and chaoses in our cities anymore.”

Donalds added that he “stands with” the University’s leadership.

An encampment organizer told demonstrators not to engage with the GOP members through a loudspeaker.

Some members on the tour called for escalated action from law enforcement if Bowser and Smith opt not to testify before the committee next week. Timmons, a GW alum, said he met with the Granberg, GW Police Department Chief James Tate, faculty and students during his visit to GW. He told reporters during the press conference that he will “absolutely” call for the arrest of “anyone that is violating the law,” calling the protest “antisemitic.”

Shortly after the GW trip Wednesday, the House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, a bill that will require the Department of Education to mandate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism when enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. The definition labels claims that the existence of the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor” and a general denial of Jewish people to their right to self determination as antisemitic.

In response to the pro-Palestinian demonstrations at Columbia University, Reps. Mike Lawler (R-NY) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY) also introduced the COLUMBIA Act last Friday, which would grant the U.S. Department of Education authority to assign independent antisemitism monitors to any college or university that receives federal funds.

Boebert, a Republican known for her inflammatory comments, said at the H Street press conference that Bowser may need to consider calling in the National Guard to clear the U-Yard encampment. Bowser does not have that authority, which instead rests with the executive branch of the federal government.

“Thus far, she has not allowed Metropolitan Police to do their job,” Boebert told a Hatchet reporter. “It may be to the point where she needs to call in the National Guard.”

Boebert also tried to remove a Palestinian flag wrapped around the George Washington statue at the front of U-Yard while walking through the encampment.

“It is private property, and this is America, and this should come down,” Boebert said to protesters near the flag before walking away.

After the representatives left, about 200 demonstrators clapped along to one protester singing “Jannah Jannah Ya Watana.” They convened at the heart of the encampment for further activities.

Several hours after the members left their tour, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) visited the premise and told a Hatchet reporter that Congress should “take control of the District back” by forcing police to clear the encampment.

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