Skip to content

Fire alarm fracas gets noisier around Rep. Jamaal Bowman

From an expulsion resolution to a ‘Nazi’ reference, the controversy wasn’t going away

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, seen here in July, set off another controversy on Monday over the use of the word “Nazi.”
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, seen here in July, set off another controversy on Monday over the use of the word “Nazi.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The accusations that sounded in the House over the weekend are only getting louder, as Republicans formally launched an effort to expel Rep. Jamaal Bowman for pulling a fire alarm. Meanwhile, officials cautioned that the alarm investigation is not done, and Bowman managed to set off another controversy over using the word “Nazi.”

Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis on Monday made good on her promise to introduce an expulsion resolution, joined by 12 GOP co-sponsors.

“Someone who is not just a United States member of Congress, but was a former school principal, knows that there are consequences to pulling a false fire alarm,” Malliotakis said of her Democratic colleague and fellow New Yorker. “If this was a school student, he would be suspended or expelled. And this should be taken even more seriously considering that this was done in the halls of government.”

But Capitol Police released a statement Monday stressing that the department “continues to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the fire alarm that resulted in the evacuation of the Cannon House Office Building” at around 12:05 p.m. on Saturday.

Republicans have characterized the incident as a deliberate attempt to delay legislative business on the brink of a shutdown, right as Speaker Kevin McCarthy pushed through a last-minute deal to keep the government funded through Nov. 17. That’s not the case, Bowman insisted, saying in a statement Saturday, “As I was rushing to make a vote, I came to a door that is usually open for votes but today would not open. I am embarrassed to admit that I activated the fire alarm, mistakenly thinking it would open the door.”

The police statement appears to support Bowman’s sheepish explanation that he pulled the fire alarm only after failing to open the door. “On security video, a man was seen trying to exit the door in the Cannon Building and then pulling the fire alarm that prompted the evacuation,” the statement reads.

Yet the police statement also casts doubt on how Bowman could have been confused by the signage around the door: “USCP officers had previously placed signs with clear language that explained the door was secured and marked as an emergency exit only.”

Expulsion is an exceedingly rare punishment for members of Congress, seen mostly in the Civil War era. To remove a sitting member requires a two-thirds vote of either chamber. Only 20 members of Congress — 15 in the Senate and five in the House — have ever been expelled. Eighteen were booted for “disloyalty to the union.” And 17 of those 18 were expelled in 1861 or 1862, according to the Congressional Research Service. 

The only two lawmakers expelled since the 19th century were James Traficant, an Ohio Democrat convicted of bribery, tax evasion and other charges, and Michael Myers, a Pennsylvania Democrat who was caught in an FBI sting operation accepting bribes from a federal agent. Both men spent years in federal prison. 

Joining Malliotakis on her expulsion resolution were co-sponsors Carol Miller, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mike Collins, Austin Scott, Tony Gonzales, Mary Miller, Gary Palmer, Matt Rosendale, Randy Weber, Troy Nehls, Josh Brecheen and Barry Moore.

Other Republicans have advocated for a milder rebuke. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Mich., has said she planned to circulate a resolution to censure Bowman, a move that would require a majority instead of a two-thirds vote. 

Democrats had expected to spend this week calling attention to the internal dysfunction of House Republicans, as GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida tries to oust McCarthy from his speaker’s perch. Instead, Democrats have been forced to play defense on the fire alarm issue as it turns increasingly ugly.

“Jamaal, are you ready?” Nehls wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, alongside a photo of himself holding up a pair of handcuffs.

McCarthy continued to stoke Republican outrage Monday during an appearance on Fox & Friends. He stopped short of saying he’d support Bowman’s expulsion, but he questioned the New York Democrat’s explanation and cited his past behavior — including getting in viral shouting matches with his Republican colleagues — as evidence that triggering the alarm was intentional.

“This is a former principal. He knows what a fire alarm is. This is a man who has gone on and yelled at members. His behavior has been unbecoming,” McCarthy said. “If you know this individual, everybody knows.”

Bowman sparked further controversy Monday when his office circulated a memo to House Democrats, which was subsequently leaked to the press, suggesting talking points in defense of the congressman. 

“I believe Congressman Bowman when he says this was an accident,” reads one suggestion from the memo. “Republicans need to instead focus their energy on the Nazi members of their party before anything else.”

By Monday afternoon, Bowman was backpedaling. “I just became aware that in our messaging guidance, there was inappropriate use of the term Nazi without my consent. I condemn the use of the term Nazi out of its precise definition. It is important to specify the term Nazi to refer to members of the Nazi party & neo-Nazis,” he wrote on X.

Despite Bowman’s appeals for support, Democrats have been slow to rally behind him. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries over the weekend said he wouldn’t comment on the fire alarm incident until he’d seen the surveillance video. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a fellow New York progressive, defended Bowman over the weekend during an appearance on CNN. She compared the outrage over Bowman’s actions to the relatively muted response to the indictment of Republican New York Rep. George Santos, who was charged by federal investigators in May with wire fraud, theft of public funds and making false statements to the House.

“They are protecting someone who has lied to the American people, lied to the United States House of Representatives, lied to congressional investigators,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “But they’re filing a motion to expel a member who in a moment of panic was trying to escape a vestibule. Give me a break.”

While some Republicans have compared Bowman to the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop the certification of election results, Bowman, by contrast, pulled an alarm that resulted in the evacuation of a single building in the complex. The Cannon Building sits to the south of the Capitol itself, a few minutes’ walk away.

Over the weekend, Peter Meijer, a former Republican congressman from Michigan, weighed in on X, saying the door in question would normally be open during business hours while Congress is in session and that it is the fastest way from Cannon to the Capitol for votes. But Meijer was incredulous that Bowman could have believed the alarm would’ve opened the door.

“In sum, pulling the fire alarm was very dumb. Now Bowman will have to explain whether he did a dumb thing for dumb reasons (open door) or dumb thing for bad reasons (obstruct/delay). Fwiw, I’m here: ‘Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,’” Meijer wrote.

Recent Stories

High-speed routes biggest winners in latest rail funding round

Appeals court upholds most of Trump gag order in DC case

Kevin Up — Congressional Hits and Misses

House GOP cites new Hunter Biden charges in impeachment push

Congress must protect our servicemembers by reauthorizing Section 702 

Photos of the week ending December 8, 2023