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House Republicans censure Jamaal Bowman over fire alarm incident

House Republicans' habit of passing unnecessary censure resolutions was already odd. Today, it got worse with a measure targeting Rep. Jamaal Bowman.


When Rep. Jamaal Bowman pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor charge for pulling a fire alarm in a House office building, it seemed the underwhelming "controversy" had effectively run its course.

The New York Democrat admitted that he'd made a mistake, paid a fine, and wrote a letter of apology. The matter appeared over.

The House Republican majority, however, didn't quite see it that way. NBC News reported:

The House voted Thursday to censure Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., for pulling a fire alarm in a congressional building while the chamber was in session in September to consider a vote to fund the government. The 214 to 191 vote was largely along party lines.

The measure was championed by Republican Rep. Lisa McClain of Michigan, who unveiled the resolution earlier this week. Four Democratic members and one Republican ended up voting "present," and three Democrats voted with the GOP majority.

It’s worth appreciating the fact that as a traditional matter, congressional censures against sitting lawmakers used to be quite rare. In American history, only 28 U.S. House members have faced such a rebuke, and up until recently, it had only happened once over the last three decades. (In 2010, the Democratic-led House formally censured then-Rep. Charlie Rangel. The New York Democrat had been accused of, among other things, misusing his office for fundraising.)

Two years ago, however, House Democrats and a couple of GOP members added Republican Rep. Paul Gosar to the list after the Arizonan posted an animated video online that depicted him killing one of his Democratic colleagues and attacking President Joe Biden.

This year, the list grew when House Republicans censured Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff for reasons that were never altogether clear. The Californian apparently told the GOP some truths the party didn’t want to hear, which led to some partisan retaliation.

Last month, the list grew again when House Republicans also censured Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib over her reaction to the Israel-Hamas war.

This morning, the GOP majority added Bowman to the growing list.

As a practical matter, a censure resolution doesn’t carry any real-world consequences. It is simply meant to be a rebuke — a way for the institution to express its criticism of a member in a formal way.

But the more this is made routine — Americans have seen more censures in 2023 than in any year since 1870 — the less meaning the resolutions have.