House to vote on censuring Rep. Jamaal Bowman for falsely pulling fire alarm

The House on Thursday appeared on track to censure Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York for falsely pulling a fire alarm in a Capitol Hill office building earlier this year, which led to a misdemeanor charge.

Rep. Lisa McClain, a Michigan Republican, forced a vote on the matter by introducing the resolution to censure Bowman as privileged on Tuesday, giving the House two legislative days to vote on it. 

Democrats tried to prevent it from advancing on Wednesday but the vote on a motion to table it fell short of a simple majority. 

Bowman pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor charge for activating a fire alarm that led to the office building’s evacuation before a last-minute vote to fund the government in September. He agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and serve three months of probation. 

“Just over two months ago, I was rushing to the Capitol to vote and prevent a Republican shutdown,” he said Wednesday on the House floor. “When I tried to exit a door that I usually go through, it didn’t open and due to confusion and rush to go vote, I pulled the fire alarm.” 

A Capitol Police officer investigating the incident said in an affidavit that there were three signs near the door that noted it was an emergency exit and that an alarm would sound. The incident was caught on a security camera. 

Rep. Jamaal Bowman speaks at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol building on Nov. 13, 2023.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman speaks at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol building on Nov. 13, 2023.

Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

When Bowman tried opening the door and failed, he then turned to the fire alarm on the wall and triggered it, the affidavit said. 

Republicans have argued that censuring Bowman would hold him accountable for breaking the law. Censure is a type of formal reprimand by the House for conduct that falls short of warranting expulsion. Democrats have countered that Bowman has already been held accountable by the legal process. 

“What a profoundly stupid resolution,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, on Wednesday. “What a petty thing it is to bring this garbage to the floor.” 

“It’s not pathetic,” said GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York. “What’s pathetic is somebody who’s a grown adult pulling a fire alarm like they’re in high school.” 

Several Republicans, including Rep. Mike Lawler of New York, accused Bowman of triggering the alarm to purposely delay a vote on a bipartisan bill to keep the government open for 45 days and avoid a shutdown. At the time, Democrats were trying to buy time to read the bill. 

“I don’t think he should be expelled,” Lawler said. “I think what he did was wrong. I don’t think it was an accident. It was absolutely done to disrupt a proceeding.” 

Lawmakers have increasingly sought to censure their colleagues in recent years to score political points when they disagree with members of the opposing party. 

Two Democrats have already been censured this year. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan was censured in a bipartisan vote in November after her defense of a rallying cry that is widely regarded as calling for the elimination of Israel. Republicans voted to censure California Rep. Adam Schiff in June for his role in congressional investigations of former President Donald Trump. 

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York on Wednesday railed against Republicans for using the tactic. 

“Censuring member after member after member has brought disgrace to the institution, to the House of Representatives,” he said. “Going after Democrats repeatedly, week after week after week, because you have nothing better to do. Then I volunteer, censure me next.” 

“That’s how worthless your censure effort is. It has no credibility, no integrity, no legitimacy,” Jeffries continued, again daring Republicans to censure him, which he said he would wear “like a badge of honor.” 

On Wednesday, Westchester County executive George Lattimer announced his campaign to challenge Bowman in a primary next year. The 16th Congressional District includes Westchester County and the Bronx. 

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