September 28, 2023 - 9:01 pm
The country may have a low opinion of the U.S. Senate, but that’s no reason for Senate leadership to actively diminish the institution.
Thankfully, it looks as if decorum has ultimately prevailed. Late Wednesday, the Senate adopted a resolution by unanimous consent that requires business attire on the chamber’s floor.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had recently relaxed the Senate’s informal dress code. Members had to be in business attire to be on the Senate floor. Those less formally attired could vote from the cloakroom. Despite this pronouncement, the dress code for Senate staffers was to remain unchanged.
Sen. Schumer’s move was an effort to appease Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa. Sen. Fetterman’s preferred attire consists of gym shorts and a hooded sweatshirt. Combined with his hulking frame, he appears more barroom bouncer than elected representative. After the change, he presided over the Senate in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt without a tie.
“Aren’t there more important things we should be talking about rather than if I dress like a slob?” Sen. Fetterman said on MSNBC.
That’s the kind of lazy rhetorical dodge one would expect from someone who insists on dressing like a slob in a formal environment. The world’s self-proclaimed greatest deliberative body is capable of deliberating on numerous issues simultaneously.
Sen. Fetterman is uninterested in abiding by the dress code of the organization he actively sought to join. His slovenliness led to the changing of a longtime tradition. That puts the onus on him to justify the change, not vice versa.
Senators from both parties have raised concerns. Most Republican senators signed a letter seeking a return to the previous standard. “Allowing casual clothing on the Senate floor disrespects the institution we serve and the American families we represent,” the letter reads.
Even some Democrats, including Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin from Illinois, weren’t supportive of the change. They understand that leaders should be held to a higher standard. Wearing business attire is one way to show that.
It’s also a tacit acknowledgement that there are standards and you’re willing to abide by them. As Peggy Noonan put it in The Wall Street Journal, observing the Senate dress code is an outward sign of “maturity, judgment and earnestness.”
After the blowback, Sen. Fetterman appears to have folded. On Wednesday, he reportedly said during a Democratic lunch that he will wear a suit when presiding over the Senate or speaking on the floor. When he’s in less formal attire, he will vote from the cloakroom.
In other words, he will allow both the Senate and himself to retain a bit of dignity.