Skip to content

House tees up censure vote for Rep. Jamaal Bowman over fire alarm pull

‘Republicans have focused more on censuring people … than passing bills,’ McGovern says

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, seen here on Nov. 3, faces a censure vote this week in the House.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, seen here on Nov. 3, faces a censure vote this week in the House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Jamaal Bowman will face a censure vote this week, after lawmakers voted down an attempt to kill the resolution. 

The progressive New Yorker has faced a steady stream of criticism for pulling a fire alarm in a congressional office building in September. Republicans have accused him of trying to delay official proceedings, while Bowman has said that was not the case.

The Bowman censure measure was introduced as a privileged resolution by Michigan Republican Rep. Lisa McClain and is the latest in a disciplinary tit for tat that’s become an increasingly common way for lawmakers to score partisan points. A final vote is expected on Thursday.

Lawmakers rejected a motion to table the resolution on Wednesday night, 201-216. In a heated hour of floor debate, Republicans accused their colleagues of hypocrisy.

“The Republican majority held our own former member accountable,” said McClain, referring to the vote last week to expel former Rep. George Santos of New York from office. “It would be hypocritical for the House Democrats to not join us in holding one of their own members accountable who actually pled guilty to breaking the law.”

Leading debate for Democrats, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts called the resolution “profoundly stupid.”

“Under Republican control, this chamber has become a place where trivial issues get debated passionately and important ones, not at all. Republicans have focused more on censuring people in this Congress than passing bills that help people we represent,” McGovern said, nearly shouting.

“I mean, honestly, what the hell is wrong with you?” he added.

“I’ll tell you, there’s nothing wrong with me,” McClain retorted. “I took an oath to defend the Constitution. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Bowman took to the floor to defend himself, blaming his actions on “confusion” and citing his repeated apologies. 

“The number one thing I tried to do as a middle school principal … was to teach my students when they made a mistake, they owned up to it,” Bowman said. “That’s exactly what I did. And yet we are still here.”

Bowman in late October pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for pulling the fire alarm. He also agreed to apologize to the Capitol Police and pay a $1,000 fine, according to a deal with prosecutors. In return, the charge was expected to be dismissed in three months.

Knowingly and falsely pulling a fire alarm is punishable by a fine or up to six months in prison, according to the District of Columbia criminal code.

The House Ethics Committee announced last month that it would decline to investigate Bowman’s actions. But House Republicans have not relented in their desire to see Bowman further punished. 

On his way out the door last week, Santos, the disgraced former representative who was expelled by his peers on Friday, introduced a resolution to remove Bowman from office. And Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, another New York Republican, had introduced a similar resolution earlier in the fall.

Bowman’s legal and political troubles stem from a Sept. 30 incident. 

The House was in session on a Saturday in an attempt to avert a government shutdown. Republicans introduced a stopgap funding bill to keep the government open through mid-November, and Democrats, who hadn’t seen the text of the measure until then, used a series of tactical maneuvers to delay a vote (though almost all Democrats would ultimately vote in favor of the legislation).

On his way to vote, Bowman was captured on Capitol Police security footage approaching a door leading onto Independence Avenue, which said “Emergency Exit Only” and “Push Until Alarm Sounds.” According to a Capitol Police affidavit, Bowman tried the first handle and then the second, before looking to his left at the fire alarm and pulling it down. As the alarm was going off, Bowman was seen exiting the area and eventually making his way out of the building and across the street to the Capitol.

He later acknowledged to Capitol Police that he heard the alarm going off but declined to tell any of the several uniformed officers he passed on his way to vote in the House chamber, according to the affidavit. Bowman has said he was confused and thought pulling the alarm would open the door.

During the fiery debate Wednesday, Republicans compared Bowman’s actions to those of the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to prevent the certification of the presidential election. Democrats dismissed those comparisons, saying no proceedings were obstructed.  

“Did he destroy government property? No. Did he obstruct an official proceeding? No. Did he yield a deadly weapon? No. Did he assault or injure anyone? No. But did he apologize and take responsibility for his actions? Yes he did, which is more than we can say for Jan. 6, when this building was desecrated by an angry mob sent by Trump to overturn an election, and Republican members still act like nothing happened,” McGovern said.

The floor debate came hours after George Latimer, the Westchester County executive, announced his plans to primary Bowman. In his first campaign ad, Latimer sought to draw a sharp contrast between himself and Bowman and promised to deliver “real progressive results, not rhetoric.”

“Unfortunately, instead of working for us, our congressman is making news for all the wrong reasons,” Latimer said in the ad.

Bowman has faced criticism for calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war. New York Republican Rep. Mike Lawler referenced that tension on the floor Wednesday.

“Jewish constituents don’t feel like they can go to you for help,” he said.

Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib called the censure resolution “yet another attempt to silence a person of color in this chamber.” And New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested the same. 

“Let me tell you what’s actually going on … New York Republicans are so embarrassed that they propped up George Santos, got him elected to office and then had to turn around and vote to expel him … that they have to find a distraction,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “So they’ve decided to target one of the first Black men to ever represent Westchester County.”

The push to censure Bowman is the latest in a recent series of attempts to discipline members on the House floor.

More than two-thirds of the House voted on Friday to remove Santos from office after a federal indictment and a damning Ethics Committee report.

In November, Republicans and 22 Democrats voted to censure Tlaib, the lone Palestinian American serving in Congress, for comments she made about the war between Israel and Hamas. In retaliation, Vermont Democratic Rep. Becca Balint introduced a resolution to censure Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and California Democratic Rep. Sara Jacobs introduced a resolution to censure Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast. Both measures were pulled before they could get a vote on the floor.

And in June, the House voted on party lines to censure California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who Republicans said spread falsehoods about collusion with Russia in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Schiff and Tlaib were the 25th and 26th members to be censured in the history of the House. In 2021, Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar was censured for posting to social media a video of a cartoon version of himself killing a cartoon version of Ocasio-Cortez. 

Before Gosar, it had been more than a decade since the last censure. And just a handful of members were censured in all of the 20th century. The punishment is largely symbolic, and typically requires the member to go to the well of the House to hear the censure read.

Recent Stories

Reproductive policy fights renew the focus on IVF

Capitol Lens | ‘The Eyes of History’

Supreme Court to hear cross-state pollution case

McConnell has a good week in battle to retake Senate majority

Trump’s interest in national abortion ban fires up both sides

‘Bad performance art’ — Congressional Hits and Misses