Many of his colleagues had already left for the night, but as Representative Jamaal Bowman, Democrat of New York, stepped out onto the Capitol steps on Wednesday, he had business left to do: heckling Republicans.
“Have some dignity!” he yelled toward Representative George Santos, the New York freshman who is fighting federal fraud charges, and to a sea of TV cameras waiting below.
“Listen, no more QAnon, no more MAGA, no more debt ceiling nonsense,” he said as he pivoted to another confrontation, this time with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who stood nearby.
The theatrical back-and-forth ended as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a fellow member of the left-wing “Squad,” gave a slight tug to Mr. Bowman’s arm, repeating, “She ain’t worth it, bro” — but not before a handful of lawmakers whipped out cellphone cameras to capture the soon-to-be viral spat.
In this hyperpartisan era, the country has no shortage of politicians willing to savage each other from across a hearing room or on social media. But Mr. Bowman, a media-savvy democratic socialist from the Bronx, has rapidly made a name for himself this spring by going where most of them have not: up to his opponents’ actual faces.
Mr. Bowman’s platform includes far-reaching left-wing policies that split his party. Still, his style — “middle school principal energy,” he calls it — appears to have captured the id of even more moderate Democrats and has fueled party speculation about his ambition.
A video in which an AR-15-owning House Republican from Kentucky tells Mr. Bowman, 47, to “calm down” as they argue over how to stop gun violence has already been viewed more than seven million times. A friendlier confrontation, with a conservative House colleague, spawned a full CNN debate.
“I don’t mean any harm,” Mr. Bowman said in an interview. “I ain’t trying to hurt nobody. But we’ve got to take America to the next level, and we are not moving with urgency.”
The approach also carries risks, especially for a Black man, some of which came into sharp relief on Thursday. That is when Ms. Greene, a combative Georgian with a history of spouting conspiracy theories and directly confronting her own political opponents, said that she had felt threatened by Mr. Bowman, even though video showed her smiling as they sparred.
Ms. Greene said that Mr. Bowman had called her a white supremacist, an insult she claimed was “equal to” someone “calling a person of color the N-word.”
She then said that the congressman’s “physical mannerisms are aggressive” and accused him of leading a “mob” targeting her when they both appeared outside a Manhattan courthouse where former President Donald J. Trump was being arraigned — an apparent reference to a crowd that consisted largely of members of the news media.
“I’m very concerned about Jamaal Bowman,” Ms. Greene said, “and he’s someone that people should watch.”
The comments left Mr. Bowman outraged, if not quite surprised.
“There’s a history of this, from Mike Brown to Emmett Till to any Black man who is passionate, outspoken, intelligent trying to stand their ground being confronted with violence,” Mr. Bowman said. “Her words today were violent and might induce violence if they get into the wrong ears.”
The exchange underscored how much is at stake in an approach that scholars of political rhetoric called a sharp departure from how members of Congress, and Black politicians more broadly, have married policy and style for generations.
Prominent Black politicians associated with the civil rights movement or its aftermath have found success by tailoring their speech to white audiences on the national stage.
Barack Obama spent eight years as president restraining his emotions to project composure. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader whom Mr. Bowman counts as a friend, is known to have a sharp tongue, but his critiques of Republicans are almost always delivered in carefully worded paragraphs from behind a lectern.
Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of African American studies at Vanderbilt University, said that Mr. Bowman was part of a younger generation of Black politicians who have been shaped by hip-hop culture and who bring “unvarnished gutbucket speech to bear on American politics,” with no desire to coddle those who disagree with them.
“He’s not concerned about moderating his speech or modulating his voice to please, to protect or to somehow placate the dominant white ear or culture,” Mr. Dyson said. “He ain’t doing it.”
He ran on a platform that included a wealth tax on the rich, national rent control, sweeping climate policies with a federal jobs guarantee, shifting money from police departments to social services, and a single-payer health care system.
But during his first term in Washington, Mr. Bowman mostly kept his head down and proved to be a reliable ally of House leaders. His tenure started just before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and played out as Congress struggled to move past the coronavirus pandemic.
That began to change this spring, after Mr. Bowman won re-election by a wide margin and as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has pulled back from some of the fights she helped steer as a new member of Congress.
He said he had begun a series of “passionate engagements” with Republican colleagues because he felt politicians often sounded “like the Charlie Brown” teacher in the “Peanuts” television specials whose words were rendered as incomprehensible sounds.
“I’m not a career politician, I’m not a millionaire, I’m not a businessman,” Mr. Bowman said. “I’m an educator, and I engage differently, I guess, than what the institution is used to.”
Mr. Bowman, an avid user of TikTok, made waves this spring when he became the first and, for a time, the only lawmaker to defend the app, which is owned by a Chinese company, as President Biden and national security hawks threatened to ban it from operating in the United States.
Other progressives soon joined him in arguing that the push was rooted in “xenophobic anti-China rhetoric.”
A spirited back-and-forth on the Capitol steps with Representative Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican with whom he liked to talk sports, led CNN to stage a debate between the two Black men on race and education policy.
“CNN aired two different Black men from two different parties for like 30 minutes in an intellectual conversation about our democracy,” Mr. Bowman said.
All of the attention has fueled speculation that Mr. Bowman is contemplating a primary challenge against Mayor Eric Adams of New York City, a moderate Democrat whose policing and social services policies he has sharply criticized. Mr. Bowman denied that he was gearing up for a run.
“No, no, no, I’m chilling — I’m good, man,” he said. “I love being in Congress.”
Mr. Bowman said that he had no real relationship with Ms. Greene when he approached her after just such a vote on Wednesday but that he had been conscious of the effect his presence could have. “I’m not stupid,” he said.
The exchange was pointed, but tame. “Do something about guns!” he said. “Invest in education.”
“Impeach Biden,” Ms. Greene shot back, as she twisted the exchange back toward issues like immigration, blaming Democrats for the influx of migrants crossing the southern border. She shook a fist at one point, but the scrum appeared to break up amicably.
After Ms. Greene’s comments on Thursday, Mr. Bowman accused her of recklessly using “a bullhorn to white nationalists.”
Nick Dyer, a spokesman for Ms. Greene, rejected Mr. Bowman’s complaint, saying it was Ms. Greene who faced constant death threats.
“Mr. Bowman doesn’t need to play victim,” he said. “He needs to recognize his targeting of Congresswoman Greene will encourage this violence.”
Catie Edmondson contributed reporting from Washington.