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Violent protest is not protected, Biden says of college campus unrest

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden on Thursday spoke from the White House on college protests happening across the nation in connection with the Israel-Hamas war.

“We’ve all seen images, and they put to the test two fundamental American principles,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room. “The first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld.”

It marked the first time Biden directly addressed the issue since his brief comments to reporters on April 22, before the escalation of suspensions and arrests at several campuses. At the time, he said he condemned both antisemitic actions and those who didn’t understand the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.

Biden has faced pressure from Republicans, who are seizing on party unity against university leaders and as staunch supporters of Israel to go after divided Democrats, to step up his response to recent events.

The president is well aware the protests present a real political liability for him, as Donald Trump also looks to capitalize on the moment, ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce reported.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, said on the campaign trail Wednesday that what was unfolding on college campuses was a “shame and Biden should speak out … because nobody knows where he is.”

“We’ve often faced moments like this because we are a big, diverse, free-thinking and freedom-loving nation,” Biden said on Thursday. “In moments like this, there are always those who rush in to score political points. But this isn’t a moment for politics. It’s a moment for clarity.”

“So, let me be clear. Violent protest is not protected, peaceful protest is,” Biden said.

He called out vandalism, trespassing, forcing the cancellation of graduation or intimidating people as not constituting peaceful protest. People should be able to earn a degree, he said, without fear of being attacked on their campus.

“It’s basically a matter of fairness,” the president said. “It’s a matter of what’s right. There is the right to protest but not the right to cause chaos.”

Biden also emphasized there is “no place for hate speech or violence of any kind,” including antisemitism, Islamophobia or discrimination against Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans.

As he left the room, Biden responded to two questions shouted by the press.

When asked if the protests have made him reconsider his policies in the region, Biden said “no.”

ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Selina Wang asked Biden whether the National Guard should be activated, to which he also responded “no.”

Biden has tried to balance strong support for Israel with sympathy for Palestinians killed and suffering in Gaza, but has faced criticism from some Democrats and many Republicans on his approach to the fraught issue.

“I understand people have strong feelings and deep convictions,” Biden said on Thursday. “In America, we respect the right to protest, the right for them to express that. But it doesn’t mean anything goes. It needs to be done without violence, without destruction, without hate and within the law.”

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