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Senators wary of sending National Guard to quell campus protests

In this photo from September 6, 2018, Rise of the Rest Seed Fund managing partner J.D. Vance speaks onstage during Day 2 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center in San Francisco. (Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch/TNS)

U.S. senators dismissed House Speaker Mike Johnson’s suggestion to send the National Guard to college campuses to quell growing protests against the war in Gaza and U.S. support for Israel.

“I don’t know if you need to call in the National Guard, maybe you just call in the police,” said Senator J.D. Vance, an Ohio Republican and one of several lawmakers from both parties expressing reservations. Vance spoke on “Fox News Sunday.”

Sending the National Guard to campuses would evoke painful memories of the violent era of campus protest against the Vietnam War, specifically at Kent State University, Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In 1970, the National Guard shot into a group of protesters at Ohio’s Kent State, killing four students.

“I think that would be a very, very bad idea,” Kaine said of deploying the National Guard. There are ways to manage the protests using campus security, Kaine said, and also by “offering students more opportunities to have dialogue that is civil and constructive where people hear one another.”

Lawmakers said that control of demonstrations should start with local police or school officials, while others added that universities should encourage constructive dialogue among students.

Last week, Speaker Johnson condemned pro-Palestinian protests during a visit to Columbia University, saying that there would be an “appropriate” role for the National Guard if the demonstrations were not quickly contained.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations have intensified as criticism of U.S. support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza grows. Protesters are gathering across college campuses across the country, setting up encampments on school grounds and demanding the administrations divest from entities that support Israel and the war.

Some colleges have responded by bringing in police, at times arresting demonstrating students and professors. The University of Southern California canceled its main commencement ceremony last week because of safety concerns amid escalating protests. Green Party candidate Jill Stein was arrested while supporting a protest at Washington University in St. Louis.

A pro-Palestinian crowd demonstrated outside the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington on Saturday night, shouting at lawmakers and journalists who attended the annual black-tie gala.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said most of the young people protesting on campuses are there out of conviction against the war and that the U.S. should protect their right to peacefully protest.

“In some of these campus protests, there have been legitimate threats to students on campus. And I think in those instances, campus police or local police can and should handle those threats,” Murphy said on Fox News Sunday.

Asked if he would endorse sending in the National Guard, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he’d turn to the school administrations first.

“Let’s see if these university presidents can get control of the situation. They ought to be able to do that,” McConnell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Civil discussion is what college education is supposed to be about.”


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