US lawmakers to vote on Bowman censure for pulling fire alarm in House office building

Progressive Democratic congressman says he’s already been held accountable for his actions; he faces primary challenge over stance on Israel-Hamas war

Rep. Jamaal Bowman at SUNY Westchester Community College, May 10, 2023, in Valhalla, New York (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Rep. Jamaal Bowman at SUNY Westchester Community College, May 10, 2023, in Valhalla, New York (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

The US House will again vote Thursday on punishing one of its own, this time targeting Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman for triggering a fire alarm in one of the US Capitol office buildings in September when the chamber was in session.

If the Republican censure resolution passes, the prominent progressive will become the third Democratic House member to be admonished this year through the process, which is a punishment one step below expulsion from the House.

“It’s painfully obvious to myself, my colleagues and the American people that the Republican Party is deeply unserious and unable to legislate,” Bowman said Wednesday as he defended himself during floor debate. “Their censure resolution against me today continues to demonstrate their inability to govern and serve the American people.”

He added that he’s since taken accountability for his actions. “No matter the result of the censure vote tomorrow, my constituents know I will always continue to fight for them,” he said.

Rep. Lisa McClain — who introduced the censure resolution — claimed Bowman pulled the alarm to “cause chaos and the stop the House from doing its business” as lawmakers scrambled to pass a bill to fund the government before a shutdown deadline.

“It is reprehensible that a Member of Congress would go to such lengths to prevent House Republicans from bringing forth a vote to keep the government operating and Americans receiving their paychecks,” McClain said in a statement.

Bowman pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor count for the incident that took place in the Cannon House Office Building. He agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and serve three months of probation, after which the false fire alarm charge is expected to be dismissed from his record under an agreement with prosecutors.

The fire alarm prompted a building-wide evacuation when the House was in session and staffers were working in the building. The building was reopened an hour later after Capitol Police determined there was no threat.

Bowman apologized and said that at the time he was trying to get through a door that was usually open but was closed that day because it was the weekend.

Many progressive Democrats, who spoke in his defense, called the Republican effort to censure him “unserious,” and questioned why the party decided to target one of the few Black men in the chamber and among the first to ever represent his district.

“This censure is just the latest in this chamber’s racist history of telling Black men that they don’t belong in Congress,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman from left, speaks alongside, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Jonathan Jackson and Rep. Cori Bush during a vigil with state legislators and faith leaders currently on hunger strike outside the White House to demand that US President Joe Biden call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza on Nov. 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

The vote is the latest example of how the chamber has begun to deploy punishments like censure, long viewed as a punishment of last resort, routinely and often in strikingly partisan ways.

“Under Republican control, this chamber has become a place where trivial issues get debated passionately and important ones not at all,” Rep. Jim McGovern, said during floor debate. “Republicans have focused more on censuring people in this Congress than passing bills that help people we represent or improving this country in any way.”

While the censure of a lawmaker carries no practical effect, it amounts to severe reproach from colleagues, as lawmakers who are censured are usually asked to stand in the well of the House as the censure resolution against them is read aloud.

If the resolution passes, Bowman will become the 27th person to ever be censured by the chamber, and the third just this year.

In June, Democrat Adam Schiff of California was censured for comments he made several years ago about investigations into then-president Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

Last month, Republicans voted to censure Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan in an extraordinary rebuke of her rhetoric about the Israel-Hamas war.

Meanwhile, George Latimer, the Westchester County executive, on Wednesday announced a primary challenge against Bowman, after the congressman repeatedly sparked controversy over his approach to the war.

Sen. George Latimer during a joint legislative budget hearing on education on Jan. 28, 2014, in Albany, New York (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Latimer made the announcement following a visit to Israel late last month, and after local Jewish leaders urged him to mount the primary challenge against Bowman for the 16th congressional district, which is located north of New York City and covers a small part of the Bronx.

Bowman, a progressive, had strained ties with some Jewish constituents before Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel. But in one decision that frustrated the Jewish community, Bowman co-sponsored an Oct. 16 resolution with fellow progressive Rep. Cori Bush calling for an “immediate ceasefire.”

The resolution did not mention Hamas, terrorism or Israeli hostages, and Bowman’s backing drew condemnation from the Westchester Board of Rabbis, which said the resolution denied Israel the right to defend itself while Hamas held hostages and drew false equivalence between the two sides.

Last week, Bowman drew further criticism when he accused Israel of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” at a protest calling for a ceasefire outside the White House. He is a member of the “Squad,” the group of progressive Democrats that has directed harsh criticism at Israel both before and since Oct. 7.

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