In a controversial and unexpected turn of events, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) is embroiled in not one but two significant scandals that cast a shadow on the ethical governance of political figures in the modern arena. The Bronx and Westchester lawmaker managed to pull a fire alarm in the Cannon House Office Building and later have his office label Republican members as “Nazis” in talking points circulated among his Democrat peers in the space of a couple of days.
The backlash has included initiating an expulsion bid by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY).
The fire alarm incident in itself, a perplexing act where Bowman ostensibly pulled the alarm in an attempt to delay a vote on a government spending package, already drew sharp and warranted scrutiny from both sides of the political aisle.
The Congressman’s office did not know the use of the term Nazi would set off rhetorical alarms. They thought calling people Nazis was what opened rhetorical doors. This can all be very confusing. https://t.co/JCvWkyvzb5
— Mary Katharine Ham (@mkhammer) October 2, 2023
His explanation, claiming it was an accident spurred by a dash to a vote, has been met with skepticism and outright disbelief. Veteran Capitol Hill reporter Jake Sherman asked the question virtually everyone was thinking: “Have you in your life ever activated a fire alarm in a large public building to open a door?”
Soon after, the Bowman office launched a counteroffensive of “Nazi” smears.
Bowman’s team sent out a memo with talking points designed to defend his actions and audaciously divert blame toward Republicans. “I believe Congressman Bowman when he says this was an accident. Republicans need to instead focus their energy on the Nazi members of their party before anything else,” one talking point stated.
— Michael Knowles (@michaeljknowles) October 2, 2023
After another immediate backlash, Bowman condemned the term “Nazi,” claiming he had not personally authorized the use of the term and expressing the importance of reserving its use for “actual members and affiliates” of the Nazi party.
This bizarre trajectory from an act that could potentially face criminal charges to a desperate-seeming attempt to shift the blame onto Republicans has raised eyebrows among constituents and colleagues alike. The offered apology and backtracking on social media platforms like X, formerly known as Twitter, seem less like genuine remorse and more like a hasty retreat from a poorly chosen strategy. “I just became aware that in our messaging guidance, there was inappropriate use of the term Nazi without my consent,” Bowman posted.
But, as Michael Gerald, Bowman’s 2024 Democratic primary challenger, aptly pointed out, such acts and subsequent communication mishaps showcase “the height of idiocy.” Gerald lambasted the invocation of such language as “catastrophic,” highlighting a plausible attempt by Bowman to detract from his “personal lack of moral judgment.”
The efforts to salvage Bowman’s credibility and shift the narrative have been ineffectual. The photographic evidence and the straightforward signage marked with “FIRE” next to the pulled alarm starkly contradict the assertions of an “honest mistake” and being thrown off by “confusing signage.”
The circulated memo also accused MAGA Republicans of using the fire alarm incident as a distraction to minimize the events of January 6th and asserted that Republicans were merely attempting to deflect.
Instead of focusing solely on the potentially criminal act of triggering a fire alarm during an official proceeding, the dialog has moved on to communication ethics, responsibility, and the dire importance of accountable representation in Congress.
Bowman’s future in Congress remains uncertain, with an expulsion bid underway, albeit unlikely to pass, and his credibility severely marred by last week’s events.