The House of Representatives votes to censure Democratic Rep. Bowman for setting off a fire alarm in a Capitol office building

(John Minchillo/Associated Press)

The House of Representatives votes to censure Democratic Rep. Bowman for setting off a fire alarm in a Capitol office building


Dec. 7, 2023

Members of the House of Representatives voted again Thursday to punish one of their own. They targeted Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who had set off a fire alarm in a U.S. Capitol office building while the House was in session.

The Republican censure resolution passed with a few Democratic votes, but most members of Bowman’s party stood with him in opposing an effort they said lacked credibility and integrity. The progressive New Yorker now becomes the third Democratic House member to be admonished this year through the censure process, which is a punishment one step below expulsion from the House of Representatives.

It is painfully clear to me, my colleagues and the American people that the Republican Party is deeply dishonest and incapable of legislating, Bowman said Wednesday as he defended himself during the floor debate. Their censure resolution against me today continues to demonstrate their inability to govern and serve the American people.

The 214-191 vote to censure Bowman caps nearly a year of chaos and retaliation in the House of Representatives. Since January, the House has experienced the removal of a member from a committee assignment, the first impeachment of a speaker in history and, last week, the expulsion of a lawmaker for the third time since the Civil War.

Rep. Lisa C. McClain (R-Mich.), who introduced the censure resolution, defended it, saying Bowman sounded the alarm in September to cause chaos and keep the House from doing its business “while legislation was rushing to to pass a bill to fund the government before a shutdown deadline.

“It is understandable that a member of Congress would go to such lengths to prevent House Republicans from voting to keep the government running and Americans receiving their paychecks,” McClain said in a statement.

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

The fire alarm prompted a building-wide evacuation while 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 he was trying to get through a door that was normally open at the time, but was closed that day because it was the weekend.

Many Democrats who spoke in his defense called the Republican effort to censure him “disingenuous,” accusing those on the other side of the aisle of repeatedly weaponizing the censure process against Democrats for political gain.

Then censor me. That’s how worthless your effort is, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said in the audience late Wednesday. It has no credibility. No integrity. No legitimacy. Then censure me, and I will accept that censorship and I will wear it like a badge of honor next week, next month, next year.

The vote is the latest example of how the House has begun using punishments like censure, long seen as a last resort, routinely and often in strikingly partisan ways.

Under Republican control, this chamber has become a place where trivial issues are discussed passionately and important ones not at all,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said during the floor debate. Republicans have focused more on censoring people in this Congress than on passing bills that will help the people we represent or improve this country in any way.

Although the censure of a legislator has no practical effect, it amounts to serious recrimination from colleagues, as legislators who are censured are usually asked to stand in the support of the House while the censure resolution is read against them.

Bowman is the 27th member to be censured by the chamber and the third this year. Last month, Republicans voted to censure Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, in response to her rhetoric about the war between Israel and Hamas.

In June, Democrat Adam B. Schiff of Burbank was convicted over comments he made several years ago about investigations into then-President Trump’s ties to Russia.


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