primary problems

Bowman’s censure adds to his political headaches back home

His primary rival, George Latimer, told JI that the censure is an example of Bowman’s focus on stunts over constituent service

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) speaks at a news conference calling for a ceasefire in Gaza outside the U.S. Capitol building on November 13, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) speaks at a news conference calling for a ceasefire in Gaza outside the U.S. Capitol building on November 13, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

The backlash over Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s (D-NY) decision to trigger a false fire alarm in a House building in September, a misdemeanor to which he pleaded guilty, was always expected to be an issue in his campaign for reelection, where he is facing a formidable challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who officially entered the race this week.

But a Republican-led resolution censuring Bowman for pulling the alarm, which passed the House on Thursday in a 214-191 vote divided largely along party lines, is only likely to compound the fallout as he prepares to defend his seat in what is shaping up to be a hotly contested primary next year.

“There’s enough of a record that Bowman’s constituents can find to be unhappy with of more consequence than the censure,” said Jake Dilemani, a Democratic strategist who helped advise a former challenger to Bowman. He cited the progressive congressman’s vote against President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill and his increasingly hostile positions on Israel, which have angered Jewish voters in his district.

Still, Dilemani explained shortly after the vote, “the censure doesn’t help.”

In a statement to Jewish Insider, Latimer, for his part, didn’t embrace the censure but used it as an example of painting the congressman as more engaged in distracting stunts than focusing on the needs of his constituents.

“What the congressman did was an unfortunate incident, but with the unfinished work at hand before the House of Representatives, the motion to censure was about putting politics first,” Latimer said. “We need this Congress to get back to work on dealing with the real issues facing our country and our world, including aid to the Ukraine and Israel, addressing the high cost of living, investing in infrastructure and addressing climate change. That’s what the people need.”

The resolution, introduced by Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI), formally reprimanded Bowman for pulling an alarm that forced the evacuation of a House office building before lawmakers approved a stopgap government funding bill.

“While the House was working tirelessly to avert a government shutdown, Representative Bowman was working nefariously to prevent a vote,” McClain charged in a statement on Tuesday. “It is reprehensible that a member of Congress would go to such lengths to prevent House Republicans from bringing forth a vote to keep the government operating and Americans receiving their paychecks.”

Bowman, meanwhile, has claimed he “mistakenly” set off the alarm while “rushing” to the Capitol to cast his vote, in an incident caught on video. In late October, he pleaded guilty to one charge of falsely pulling a fire alarm and agreed to pay a $1,000 fine.

During a House floor debate on Wednesday evening ahead of the vote, Bowman called Republicans “deeply unserious” and said the censure resolution “demonstrates their inability to govern.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who has indicated he will support Bowman in his primary despite their differences on Israel and other issues, was among several Democrats who defended the congressman, a high-profile Squad member who is frequently at odds with his party’s mainstream wing.

Calling the censure “fraudulent and fictitious,” Jeffries, in his floor remarks, accused “extreme MAGA Republicans” of seeking “to undermine” Bowman, a two-term congressman who, he said, has been “doing his best to serve his constituents.”

Three Democrats, however, voted in favor of the resolution: Reps. Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Chris Pappas (D-NH) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA), all of whom are seeking reelection in swing districts key to regaining the House majority next year. Four Democrats and one Republican voted present.

“At the end of the day, Rep. Bowman broke the law when he pulled the fire alarm,” Pappas said of his decision in a statement to Axios after the vote on Thursday. “The resolution was a straightforward condemnation of his actions, and I voted yes.”

Even as most Democrats stood behind Bowman, the show of support could fail to resonate in his own district, where elections forecasters believe he is uniquely vulnerable.

“It’s not helpful,” one prominent Democrat in Westchester, who asked to remain anonymous to speak candidly, said of the censure, “because it returns the issue to the headlines at this critical time.”

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