Pleading guilty to a misdemeanour charge and pledging to pay a fine for pulling a fire alarm in a congressional building as a crucial vote loomed, the Democratic New York congressman Jamaal Bowman hit out at Republicans for making “crazy” comparisons to rioters who attacked Congress on January 6.
“That’s crazy,” Bowman told reporters outside court in Washington on Thursday, laughing as he did so.
“Yeah, that’s crazy, immediately likening me to insurrectionists, what happened on January 6. I mean, this is what they do. They weaponise any opportunity they can … so we don’t focus on their own dysfunction and destruction of their own party.”
Kevin McCarthy, then speaker of the House, and the extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene were among Republicans to make the January 6 comparison after the 30 September incident, in which Bowman was captured on camera pulling the alarm in the Cannon office building as a vote on a stopgap funding measure, which ultimately staved off a government shutdown, drew near.
Claiming Bowman had reached “a new low”, McCarthy said: “We watched how people have been treated if they’ve done something wrong in this Capitol. It would be interesting to see how he is treated and what he was trying to obstruct when it came to the American public.”
On 6 January 2021, a mob told to “fight like hell” by Donald Trump attacked Congress in an attempt to stop certification of Joe Biden’s election win. The effort failed but nine deaths have been linked to the riot, including law enforcement suicides. Thousands of arrests have been made and hundreds of convictions have been secured, some for seditious conspiracy. Trump was impeached.
Bowman immediately denied seeking to delay the vote, saying: “As I was rushing to make a vote, I came to a door that is usually open for votes but today was not open. I am embarrassed to admit that I activated the fire alarm, mistakenly thinking it would open the door. I regret this and sincerely apologise for any confusion this caused.”
This Wednesday, the office of the DC attorney general confirmed that Bowman would “plead guilty and has agreed to pay the maximum fine”. A spokesperson said: “Congressman Bowman was treated like anyone else who violates the law in the District of Columbia. Based on the evidence presented by Capitol police, we charged the only crime that we have jurisdiction to prosecute.”
In a statement, Bowman said he was “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 of proceedings.
“I am responsible for activating a fire alarm, I will be paying the fine issued, and look forward to these charges ultimately being dropped.”
He also predicted that Republicans would “attempt to use this to distract everyone from their mess”, a reference to the three-week standoff over electing a speaker to succeed McCarthy which finally ended on Wednesday with the installation of Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a Trumpist hardliner.
Summoned to court on Thursday, Bowman spoke to reporters.
“You remember that day,” he said of 30 September. “It was like, it was a lot going on. It was difficult to keep the government open. There was a motion to adjourn. So I was just in a rush, man, you know, trying to get downstream. I was actually running to the Capitol at one point. So I was just in a hurry and … so that was all my bad.”
As a leading and combative progressive, Bowman, a former school principal in the Bronx in New York City, has often being a target for Republican invective.
On Wednesday, Lisa McLain, a Michigan Republican, introduced a resolution to formally censure Bowman and “remove him from all committee assignments for the remainder of the 118th Congress”.
Bryan Steil, the Republican chair of the House administration committee, called for an ethics investigation. Bowman’s excuse “does not pass the sniff test”, Steil said, adding: “After pulling the fire alarm, Representative Bowman fled the scene, passed by multiple Capitol police officers and had every opportunity to alert USCP of his mistake.”
Bowman said: “I look forward to putting this behind me and to continue working hard to deliver for New Yorkers.”