Skip to content

Comer cancels oversight hearing after clearing of GW encampment

But GOP will continue ‘House-wide effort to crack down on antisemitism on college campuses’

Activists carry a “Free Palestine” flag into an encampment at George Washington University on April 25.
Activists carry a “Free Palestine” flag into an encampment at George Washington University on April 25. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Oversight and Accountability Chairman James R. Comer canceled a scheduled hearing aimed at examining the local response to a pro-Palestinian encampment at George Washington University after police cleared the area early Wednesday.

The hearing, which was slated for Wednesday afternoon, was announced last week after reports that District of Columbia police defied calls from school administrators to disperse protesters. The GW encampment is one of dozens erected in the last month to protest the war between Israel and Hamas.

Comer, R-Ky., issued a statement Wednesday announcing the cancellation and citing a “good conversation” he’d had that morning with Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser. 

“It was unfortunate the situation at GW forced the Oversight Committee to act; however it was apparent that the DC police force was not going to do their job. … I am pleased that the potential Oversight hearing led to swift action by Mayor Bowser and MPD Chief [Pamela] Smith,” Comer said.

Bowser, at a Wednesday morning press conference, said Comer “expressed his interest in making sure the city and the chief could focus on this ongoing operation.”

“Congressman Comer indicated that he thought our energies today should be on our ongoing operations. I agreed,” Bowser said.

While supporters of the encampments across the country say they’re mostly peaceful demonstrations, opponents have characterized them as hotbeds of antisemitism. And they’ve been met with varying degrees of police force. Violent clashes between protesters and counter-protesters, or between protesters and law enforcement, at schools like Columbia University and UCLA have only ramped up attempts by school administrators and elected officials to try to restore order.

Smith, the Metropolitan Police chief, said at the press conference that there were 33 arrests for charges including unlawful entry and assault on a police officer. She said it wasn’t clear whether protests would be permitted on campus going forward.

“That’s the [university] president’s decision to determine if she will allow protests in other areas of the campus,” Smith said. “But as of now, the area that we have secured, there will be no protests in that area.”

Republicans have repeatedly called on Democrats and school leaders to quell the protests.

Comer and other Oversight Republicans visited the GW encampment last week, urging leaders to secure the campus. In April, Speaker Mike Johnson visited Columbia University’s encampment and called on the school’s president to step down.

Johnson, R-La., last week announced a “House-wide effort to crack down on antisemitism on college campuses” during a news conference with Republican committee chairs. 

And the Education and the Workforce Committee has held a series of hearings on antisemitism on college campuses, one of which helped spur the resignations of two Ivy League presidents. The education panel had a hearing Wednesday on antisemitism in K-12 schools and another slated for later this month on “Stopping Antisemitic College Chaos.” 

Comer, meanwhile, has used his perch atop the Oversight panel to exercise Congress’ authority over local D.C. politics, granted under the District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973. That law gives Congress final say over bills passed by the D.C. Council.

He’s held several hearings this Congress questioning local D.C. laws and supported the quashing of a D.C. bill that would have overhauled the city’s criminal code. The Senate and House ultimately passed a disapproval resolution — with some Democratic support — blocking the bill. President Joe Biden signed the disapproval resolution last year.

Some Democrats have also come out against the campus encampments. 

“It is well past time for District officials to intervene and protect all students on campus,” New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer wrote in a letter to Bowser circulated Tuesday.

Bowser at Wednesday’s press conference said the decision to clear the encampment was not driven by politics.

“MPD’s response to First Amendment demonstration is apolitical,” Bowser said. “It is without regard to one side or the other, and is focused on public safety.”

But the campus protests nationwide have become a political lightning rod for Democrats, driving a wedge between many younger progressives and the party’s mainstream.

The Congressional Progressive Staff Association came out last week with a statement in support of “nonviolent student protesters and their efforts to raise the alarm about the complicity of both their colleges and of the United States in the War on Gaza.” And the GW Student Government Association released a statement condemning hate speech but largely defending the encampment on Tuesday, ahead of its clearing. 

“We believe that any progress in our world is only possible through protest and dialogue, such exemplified by many members of the student body in recent weeks,” the group wrote. “It is important that the Student Government Association advocates for and protects the welfare of the student community, and we feel it is only justified to stand behind students’ peaceful protests during this time.”

Recent Stories

Spared angry protests at Morehouse, Biden pushes post-war Gaza plan

Capitol Lens | Duck dodgers

Election year politics roil the EV transition

Thompson’s animal welfare, whole milk priorities in farm bill

Schumer plans vote on border security bill that GOP blocked

Republicans look to reverse rule based on gun law they backed