The Republican-led House voted Thursday to censure Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) for pulling a fire alarm in September that forced the evacuation of a House office building while lawmakers were laboring to avert a government shutdown.
The resolution passed 214-191, in a vote that broke largely along party lines. Bowman became the 27th House member to be censured — and the third this year.
The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Lisa C. McClain (R-Mich.), secretary of the House Republican conference, who said Wednesday that Bowman had “knowingly pulled a fire alarm to cause chaos and stop the House from doing business.”
“Mr. Bowman should know the consequences of pulling a fire alarm to cause panic,” McClain said, citing Bowman’s time as a middle school principal in the Bronx. “In New York schools, the policy is clear. When a student commits a crime on campus, police are called and that student is either suspended or expelled. One would think Representative Bowman would be able to hold himself to the same standards as he held his students to.”
During debate Wednesday, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called the resolution “profoundly stupid,” trivial and a waste of time.
“I find it terribly ironic that we are talking about censuring Mr. Bowman, and yet we never censured any of our colleagues who tried to overturn the election on January 6th,” McGovern said.
Asked about Bowman’s expected censure ahead of Thursday’s vote, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said “extreme” Republicans were targeting another Democrat while “burying their heads in the sand with respect to unlawful or unacceptable conduct by their own members.”
Bowman, 47, reiterated Wednesday the explanation he had offered in September: that he had been rushing to the Capitol to vote when he tried to exit through a door in the Cannon Office Building that he usually went through.
“It didn’t open and, due to confusion and rush to go vote, I pulled the fire alarm,” Bowman said. “I immediately took responsibility and accountability for my actions and pled guilty. The legal process on this matter has played out. In no way did I obstruct official proceedings. The vote took place and Democrats were able to ensure we avoided a government shutdown.”
In late October, Bowman pleaded guilty to the charge of pulling a false fire alarm. As part of a deal with the D.C. attorney general’s office, Bowman agreed to pay a $1,000 fine, give $50 to a crime victim’s compensation fund and, within two weeks, apologize in writing to the U.S. Capitol Police chief, according to court documents.
In a statement that month, Bowman said, “I am responsible for activating a fire alarm, I will be paying the fine issued, and look forward to these charges being ultimately dropped.”
Prosecutors in the D.C. attorney general’s office said the charges could be dropped in late January if Bowman fulfills the terms of the agreement, CNN reported.
The House Ethics Committee announced last month that it was declining to investigate Bowman and said no further action by the committee was necessary. Just before he was expelled from Congress, former congressman George Santos (R-N.Y.) introduced a resolution to expel Bowman, citing the fire alarm incident. Democrats downplayed Santos’s motion.
“There’s no basis for George Santos, who’s a joke and an embarrassment and a serial fraudster, to move forward with any resolution or to take him seriously at all,” Jeffries said then.
The censure vote comes days after one of the top Democrats in Bowman’s district, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, filed paperwork to run against the congressman next year. Bowman is currently serving his second term.
The vote also comes as the House has increasingly used the symbolic and once rare punishment against a host of members. A censure is less severe than expulsion from the House but more severe than a reprimand.
From 1980 to 2019, there were nine motions focused on censure or supporting censure motions, according to Washington Post columnist Philip Bump. From 2020 to the beginning of November, there have been 35.
In June, the House censured Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) for pressing allegations that Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia. In July, Democrats moved to censure Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for hate speech directed at people in the Jewish, Muslim, Asian, immigrant and gay communities. (Last year Democrats sought to censure Greene for posting on social media, “Joe Biden is Hitler.”)
Last month, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the only Palestinian American member of Congress, was censured for comments related to Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.