fbpx
ROLL CALL

House Democrats split again over calling for Harvard, MIT presidents to resign

With 84 Democrats voting for the resolution and 125 opposing it, it’s the second time in two weeks the Democratic caucus has fractured over a resolution relating to antisemitism

Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University, Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, Pamela Nadell, professor of history and Jewish studies at American University, and Sally Kornbluth, president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 5, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University, Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, Pamela Nadell, professor of history and Jewish studies at American University, and Sally Kornbluth, president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 5, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

The House voted 303-126-3 on Wednesday for a resolution condemning the testimony by three college presidents before the House of Representatives last week and calling for Harvard President Claudine Gay and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth to immediately resign.

The resolution was the second time in two weeks that the House Democratic caucus has split nearly down the middle over a resolution relating to antisemitism. Eighty-four Democrats voted to support the resolution and 125 voted against it, with three Democrats voting present. Republican Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) also voted against the resolution.

The resolution focuses specifically on responses by Gay, Kornbluth and former University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill l — who already tendered her resignation in the hearing’s fallout —equivocating on whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate their campuses’ policies on bullying and harassment.

Some of the Democratic votes against the resolution came in spite of concerns about the university presidents’ comments. Some also came from lawmakers who prominently opposed last week’s resolution describing anti-Zionism as antisemitic. A majority of the votes for the resolution came from more moderate-leaning members of the Democratic caucus but some progressives also supported it.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), in a speech on the House floor, called the presidents’ answers to the question about genocide “overly legalistic” and “tone deaf.” He said they also lacked the  “common sense” that anyone calling for genocide could pose a physical threat to Jewish students and would also create a “hostile learning environment and deserves disciplinary action.”

But, he argued, using the power of Congress to call on the presidents of private colleges to resign was unprecedented, inappropriate and borderline unconstitutional. And he noted Congress had already voted numerous times since Oct. 7 to condemn antisemitism, including on college campuses.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), the ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, went further in defending the university leaders.

Scott argued that, while calls for genocide of Jewish people are “reprehensible” and have “no place in reasonable discourse,” the presidents’ answers had been taken out of context and that the presidents had made clear their commitment to fighting antisemitism. He said that their answers were correct, in light of free expression protections, accusing Republicans of acting in bad faith.

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) lambasted the resolution in a speech on the House floor but voted for it anyway.

“I was appalled by the failure of the three college presidents to simply say ‘yes, a call for the genocide of Jews is wrong. Period,’” Manning said. “But I have no interest in meaningless resolutions that do nothing to address the underlying issue of antisemitism… Nonbinding, politically motivated resolutions are not worth the paper they’re written on.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered daily in a must-read newsletter.