A Democratic congressman from New York has apologized for triggering a fire alarm in a Capitol office building on Saturday, as his party was trying to delay a crucial budget vote to avoid a government shutdown. Rep. Jamaal Bowman said he accidentally pulled the alarm while rushing to cast his vote, but Republicans accused him of trying to sabotage the process and called for an investigation.
The incident occurred around noon on Saturday, as the House of Representatives was preparing to vote on a 71-page stopgap spending measure proposed by Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. The bill would keep the government funded until November 17, but it did not include any new aid for Ukraine, which Democrats had demanded in light of the recent Russian aggression.
Democrats were hoping to stall the vote so they could have more time to read the bill and decide whether to support it. House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries delivered a 52-minute speech in what was seen as an effort to give his fellow members and staff time to figure out their position.
But as Jeffries was speaking, a fire alarm sounded in the Cannon office building, which is connected to the Capitol via an underground tunnel. The alarm prompted an evacuation and a security check that lasted for about an hour, delaying the start of the vote.
Bowman later admitted that he was responsible for pulling the alarm, but he said it was not intentional. He said he came to a door that was usually open for votes but was closed that day. He said he mistakenly thought that pulling the alarm would open the door, and he apologized for any confusion he caused.
“I am embarrassed to admit that I activated the fire alarm, mistakenly thinking it would open the door,” Bowman said in a statement. “I regret this and sincerely apologize for any confusion this caused.”
He added that he was not trying to delay the vote, but rather to get to it as soon as possible. He said he ultimately voted in favor of the bill, joining his colleagues in a bipartisan effort to keep the government open.
However, Republicans were not convinced by Bowman’s explanation and accused him of deliberately trying to disrupt the vote and force a government shutdown. They also compared his action to the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
“When you think of how other people are treated when they wanted to come in and change the course of what was happening in this building,” McCarthy said, referring to the January 6 insurrectionists. “It would be interesting to see how he is treated and what he was trying to obstruct when it came to the American public.”
Brian Steil, a Republican from Wisconsin and chair of the House Administration Committee, announced that an investigation into Bowman’s conduct was underway. He said he wanted to know why Bowman pulled the alarm and what his intentions were.
The House Administration Committee is responsible for overseeing the security and operations of the House buildings and grounds. It has the authority to recommend disciplinary actions against members who violate House rules or ethics.
Bowman said he met with the Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police after the vote to explain what happened. He said he cooperated fully with their inquiries and hoped to resolve the matter quickly.
The House eventually passed the spending bill by a vote of 335-91, with more Democrats than Republicans supporting it. The Senate also approved the bill by a vote of 90-9, and Biden signed it into law minutes before midnight, averting a government shutdown that would have affected millions of federal workers and services.
However, the bill did not include any new aid for Ukraine, which Democrats had sought as a way to deter Russia from further aggression. Biden said he was disappointed by this omission and urged McCarthy to allow another bill with funding for Ukraine to pass without delay.
“We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted,” Biden said in a statement.