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John Fetterman can now wear shorts on the Senate floor thanks to dress code rule change

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) arrives for the “AI Insight Forum” at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Sept. 13, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images/TNS)

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) quietly directed the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms to no longer enforce the Senate’s already informal dress code, Axios reported on Sunday.

“Senators are able to choose what they want to wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit,” Schumer said in a statement.

The new rule — or lack of a rule — takes effect this week. It wasn’t immediately clear if Schumer changed the rule specifically with Fetterman in mind, though Fetterman is the chamber’s most casually dressed member, and one who has received ongoing GOP blowback about his image since his Senate run.

Fetterman, a Democrat, was inaugurated in a suit and tie but has long preferred his signature shorts and Carhartt hoodies, which came to define his “everyman” campaign. How that image “fits” into the gilded rotunda has continued to be a focus.

Since returning to the Senate after being treated for clinical depression, Fetterman has worn a suit and tie when in the chamber but often wears casual clothing around the Capitol. He’s taken several votes from the edge of the Senate floor with one foot still in the cloakroom if he’s in his more casual attire. Other senators have also long voted this way if they’re rushing back from travel or a more casual engagement, though it limits the interactions they can have before and after the vote on the chamber floor.

The old rule — requiring business attire, which typically means coat and tie for men — still applies to Senate staffers, according to Axios.

But there actually isn’t a formal dress code written down anywhere, The Inquirer learned earlier this year when Fetterman took office. That makes the dress code more of a custom enforced at the discretion of the sergeant-at-arms.

Ross Baker, a Senate historian and political science professor at Rutgers University, noted the lack of an official code has meant plenty of senators have been able to show their style — western senators in cowboy boots and string ties, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in Puma sneakers.

“The important thing to remember about the Senate is that it is an institution whose rules are tailored (sorry about the pun) for its members,” Baker said, “I can recall no instance of a point of order being raised about a colleague’s fluorescent necktie or bolo tie.”

When he’s not in D.C., Fetterman has almost exclusively gone casual, whether touring Pennsylvania farms or appearing with President Joe Biden to receive an update on the reopening of I-95 earlier this year. He held a “Hoodies and Suits” themed fundraiser for fellow Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey’s reelection campaign last week.

“I couldn’t have gotten to the Senate without Bob’s support in 2022. And Bob won’t win in 2024 without help from all of us — whether you’re #TeamHoodies or #TeamSuits,” a fundraising email read.

GOP backlash

Some Republicans immediately lambasted the rule change, calling it disrespectful to the decorum of the Senate.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, on a campaign stop Monday, mentioned the dress code change.

“Did you guys hear the U.S. Senate just eliminated their dress code because you got this guy from Pennsylvania?” DeSantis said. “To show up in the United States Senate with that and not have the decency to not put on proper attire, I think it’s disrespectful.”

Fetterman shared DeSantis’ remarks on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, with the added comment “I dress like he campaigns.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) also posted on X: “The Senate no longer enforcing a dress code for Senators to appease Fetterman is disgraceful.”

Former U. S. Rep. Justin Amash, a longtime Republican who switched to the Libertarian Party, wrote on X: “Awful. The Senate chamber isn’t your home, a gym, or an outdoor park. If you can’t dress professionally for work on the floor of the Senate of the United States, then do us all a favor and get a different job.”

Fetterman’s director of communications, Joe Calvello, responded to the change by joking about the fringe conspiracy that Fetterman has a body double.

“Great day for John Fetterman’s body double, we don’t have to buy them suits anymore.”

Later he added: “The amount of crying we are seeing from the GOP over the Senate dress code is reaching unprecedented of levels of bedwetting … truly a sight to behold to see all the Fox News snowflakes so triggered over a hoodie and shorts.”

Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman can now wear his signature shorts and hoodie on the Senate floor without fear of violating a Senate dress code.


© 2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC

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