Biden says ‘order must prevail’ during campus protests over Gaza

Biden will make his own visit to a college campus on May 19

Police enter an encampment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the UCLA campus | AP Police enter an encampment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the UCLA campus | AP

President Joe Biden on Thursday defended the right to protest but insisted that order must prevail as college campuses across the country face unrest over the war in Gaza.

Dissent is essential for democracy," he said at the White House. "But dissent must never lead to disorder.

The Democratic president also said the protests have not caused him to reconsider his approach to the war. Biden has occasionally criticised Israel's conduct but continued to supply it with weapons.

Biden said the campus protests haven't prompted him to rethink his Middle East policies, and he opposes sending in National Guard.

Republicans have tried to turn scenes of unrest into a campaign cudgel against Democrats.

Tension at colleges and universities has been building for days as some demonstrators refuse to remove encampments and administrators turn to law enforcement to clear them by force, leading to clashes that have seized attention from politicians and the media.

But Biden's previous public comment came more than a week ago, when he condemned antisemitic protests and those who don't understand what's going on with the Palestinians.

The White House, which has been peppered with questions by reporters, has gone only slightly further than the president. On Wednesday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden is monitoring the situation closely," and she said some demonstrations had stepped over a line that separated free speech from unlawful behaviour.

Forcibly taking over a building," such as what happened at Columbia University in New York, "is not peaceful," she said. "It's just not.

Biden has never been much for protesting. His career in elected office began as a county official when he was only 28 years old, and he's always espoused the political importance of compromise over zealousness.

As college campuses convulsed with anger over the Vietnam War in 1968, Biden was in law school at Syracuse University.

I'm not big on flak jackets and tie-dyed shirts, he said years later. You know, that's not me.?

Despite the White House's criticism and Biden's refusal to heed protesters' demands to cut off US support for Israel, Republicans blame Democrats for the disorder and have used it as a backdrop for press conferences.

We need the president of the United States to speak to the issue and say this is wrong," House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, said on Tuesday. "What's happening on college campuses right now is wrong.

Johnson visited Columbia with other members of his caucus last week. House Republicans sparred with protesters while speaking to the media at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on Wednesday.

Former President Donald Trump, his party's presumptive nominee, also criticised Biden in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News.

Biden has to do something, he said. Biden is supposed to be the voice of our country, and it's certainly not much of a voice. It's a voice that nobody's heard.

He repeated his criticisms on Wednesday during a campaign event in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

The radical extremists and far-left agitators are terrorizing college campuses, as you possibly noticed," Trump said. And Biden's nowhere to be found. He hasn't said anything."

Kate Berner, who served as deputy communications director for Biden's campaign in 2020, said Republicans already tried the same tactic four years ago during protests over George Floyd's murder by a police officer.

People rejected that, she said. They saw that it was just fearmongering. They saw that it wasn't based in reality.

Apart from condemning antisemitism, the White House has been reluctant to directly engage on the issue.

Jean-Pierre repeatedly deflected questions during a briefing on Monday.

Asked whether protesters should be disciplined by their schools, she said universities and colleges make their own decisions and "we're not going to weigh in from here.

Pressed on whether police should be called in, she said that's up to the colleges and universities.

When quizzed about administrators rescheduling graduation ceremonies, she said that is a decision that they have to decide" and that is on them.

Biden will make his own visit to a college campus on May 19 when he's scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Morehouse University in Atlanta.

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