Convenient false fire alarm at Capitol as Democrats were trying to delay voteSeptember 30, 2023
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Washington: Democrat Jamaal Bowman acknowledged triggering a fire alarm in one of the US Capitol office buildings as lawmakers scrambled to pass a bill to fund the government before the midnight shutdown deadline.
The fire alarm sounded out about noon on Saturday (Sunday morning AEST) in the Cannon House Office Building and prompted a building-wide evacuation at a time when the House was in session and staffers were working in the building. The building was reopened an hour later after Capitol Police determined it was not a threat.
New York Democrat Jamaal Bowman mistakenly set the fire alarm off.Credit: AP
The GOP-controlled House Administration Committee, which oversees issues pertaining to the Capitol complex, posted a picture of a person pulling the fire alarm who appeared to be Bowman.
The New York lawmaker admitted hours later that it was a mistake and that he was rushing to get to votes and was trying to get through a door that is usually open, but was closed due to it being a weekend.
“I thought it would help me open the door,” he said about pulling the trigger, denying that it was an effort to stall anything.
Capitol Police said in a statement that an “investigation into what happened and why continues”.
At the time of the evacuation House Democrats were working to delay a vote on a 45-day funding bill to keep federal agencies open. They said they needed time to review the 71-page bill that Republicans abruptly released to avoid a shutdown.
The funding package was ultimately approved 335-91 on Saturday afternoon (US time), with most Republicans and almost all Democrats – including Bowman – supporting the bill.
The rushed package would leave behind aid to Ukraine, a White House priority opposed by a growing number of GOP lawmakers, but increase federal disaster assistance by $16 billion, meeting US President Joe Biden’s full request. The bill would fund government until November 17.
It goes next to the Senate, which was meeting late in the evening, hours to go before the midnight deadline to fund the government.
“We’re going to do our job,” McCarthy said before the House vote. “We’re going to be adults in the room. And we’re going to keep government open.”
It’s been a head-spinning turn of events in Congress after days of House chaos pushed the government to the brink of a disruptive federal shutdown.
With no deal in place before Sunday, federal workers would face furloughs, more than 2 million active-duty and reserve military troops would work without pay and programs and services that Americans rely on from coast to coast would begin to face shutdown disruptions.
After the vote, Republicans, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, criticised Bowman over the fire alarm. Some lawmakers even floated the idea of drafting a motion to expel or censure him from the House.
“This should not go without punishment,” McCarthy said. “This is an embarrassment.”
He added that he plans to talk with the Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York to figure out a possible response.
But Jeffries met with Bowman shortly after the vote and Bowman said his fellow New York colleague was “supportive”.
“He understood that it was a mistake and that’s all it was,” he said. Bowman added that the reaction from McCarthy and other Republicans is dishonest.
“[McCarthy’s] trying to weaponise a mistake of me coming, rushing to get to a vote as something nefarious when it wasn’t,” he said.
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