Bowman’s Plausible Deniability

Fire emergency doors with big red signs about alarms going off are very confusing. Who could possibly know that it meant a fire alarm, and that by pushing the bar that said “alarm” would set off an alarm and not just open the door that said “emergency exit only”?

That would be New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman.

The alarm was triggered at the same time that House Democrats at the Capitol were stalling a vote on a spending measure to keep the government operating for another 45 days. Speaker Kevin McCarthy had unveiled the bill just minutes earlier, and Democrats were scrambling to read the bill and determine whether to support it. Later in the day, the bill passed 335 to 91, with more Democrats voting for it than Republicans.

Had it been just a random act at a moment in time when there was no explanation for why Bowman would push the bar on the door that pretty much anyone over the age of twelve would understand to set off the fire alarm, perhaps it could be chalked up to the usual congressional excuses, stupidity, carelessness, a wide urinating stance, thoughtlessness. But it didn’t happen at some random time that held no other potential significance, but at a time when the Dems were seeking to delay a vote to read a bill. Could there be a connection?

In a statement released Saturday night, Mr. Bowman said that he had not pulled the alarm to delay the vote, as some Republicans had presumed. He said that as he was rushing to the Capitol to cast a vote, he came to a door in the Cannon building that would not open.

“I am embarrassed to admit that I activated the fire alarm, mistakenly thinking it would open the door. I regret this and sincerely apologize for any confusion this caused,” Mr. Bowman said. “But I want to be very clear: this was not me, in any way, trying to delay any vote. It was the exact opposite — I was trying urgently to get to a vote.”

Not that I have any personal knowledge of this, but it would be fair to assume that Representative Bowman was familiar with the way from his office in the Cannon Building to the House chamber. He might have even gone that way before. This wasn’t his first day on the job. The warnings on the door aside, he probably had a working knowledge of the way to go without regard to using fire emergency doors he never used during his travels before.

But by admitting his offense and claiming dopiness and good intentions, Bowman is hoping that this foray into alarmism will result in some head shaking and teeth gnashing, and then be shrugged off. Sure, he will bear the nickname Bonehead Bowman for a term or two, but he’ll get over it.

Of course, setting off a fire alarm isn’t the biggest deal. Sure, it’s a misdemeanor, if done intentionally, but it’s not comparable to denying aid to Ukraine so millions of people will be slaughtered by invading Russians, or even not funding the government so millions of people will suffer the consequences. I mean, who hasn’t pulled a fire alarm on the sixth floor of Mary Donlon Hall just to see what would happen? But I digress.

Representative Nicole Malliotakis, Republican of New York, has drafted a motion to expel Mr. Bowman from the House, her office said.

“This is the United States Congress, not a New York City high school,” Ms. Malliotakis wrote on X. “To pull the fire alarm to disrupt proceedings when we are trying to draft legislation to AVERT A SHUTDOWN is pathetic.”

Is it really an expellable offense? This is likely a place Rep. Malliotakis should be extremely reluctant to go, given the conduct of representatives these days. Engaging in pathetic conduct is pretty much de rigeuer for the House these days.

But what might be even worse than setting off a fire alarm for dubious reasons is the scenario that was happening, a vote called before the Democrats could read the measure before being required to vote on it. A congressman who felt he had no option but to delay, if not scuttle, the vote at the risk of a government shutdown. A handful of insurgent Republicans who held the speaker captive lest his ambitions be thwarted. And a lie told with plausible deniability as cover.

When you position your tribe as the side of purity and goodness, in contrast to the other tribe as venal and cruel, it’s hard to justify taking the occasional dip in the dirty pool. Maybe Jamaal Bowman believed there was no other way to buy a little time to enable the Democrats to read and process the stopgap measure in order to figure out whether to vote for it and own that piece of Speaker McCarthy that the MAGA dolts gave up. Maybe there was something more nefarious going on, like a minority leader asking one of his teammates to take the heat by sounding the alarm.

But if you want to be the good guys, you have to be the good guys. Plausible deniability only works when its plausible. This attempt to play the dope set off alarms because it’s hard to imagine that Rep. Bowman was quite that dumb.

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