Jamaal Bowman charged for pulling fire alarm amid House shutdown vote

New York congressman said he pulled office building alarm handle because he thought it would open a door

John Bowden
Washington DC
Wednesday 25 October 2023 22:38 BST
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defends Jamal Bowman over fire alarm

Jamaal Bowman is officially facing one misdemeanour charge over an incident where he pulled a fire alarm handle in a House office building ahead of a major vote in the House government funding battle.

Mr Bowman was roundly criticised by Republicans after he was seen setting off the fire alarm on security cameras; the moment occurred on 30 September as the House was debating legislation to keep the government open on a short-term basis, given the chamber’s inability to pass budget resolutions. At the time, he denied attempting to delay any votes or disrupt House business in any way.

The alarm in question was triggered in the Cannon House Office Building, which is attached via a tunnel system to the main Capitol complex. The alarm did not sound in the US Capitol itself, where the vote occurred.

In statements after the incident, Mr Bowman blamed his triggering of the alarm on a belief that pulling the lever would have opened a door leading out of the building that was nearby. Republicans have cast doubt on his explanation.

On Tuesday, he confirmed that he had reached a deal for the charges to be “dropped” in three months after he pleaded guilty, apologised, and agreed to pay the maximum fine for such a charge.

“I’m thankful for the quick resolution from the District of Columbia Attorney General’s office on this issue and grateful that the United States Capitol Police General Counsel’s office agreed I did not obstruct nor intend to obstruct any House vote or proceedings,” said the congressman. “I am responsible for activating a fire alarm, I will be paying the fine issued, and look forward to these charges being ultimately dropped.”

“He is pleading guilty and has agreed to pay the maximum fine,” the DC attorney general’s office added to Axios.

The House eventually voted to approve a short-term funding resolution that day; Mr Bowman joined every other Democrat in support for the bill, while then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy failed to get a majority of his own caucus to support the legislation, which he himself supported.

The passage of that legislation kicked off a major battle in the House. A squad of Republican loyalists ousted Mr McCarthy from the speakership in revenge, with the help of a unified Democratic caucus that refused to save Mr McCarthy’s political career absent any offer of concessions from the GOP leader. The chamber would then be paralysed for three weeks as Republicans tried and failed to elect a new speaker with the support of enough of their caucus to actually pass the nomination through the chamber.

On Tuesday, that stalemate was finally broken with the election of Rep Mike Johnson as the new Speaker.

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