Fetterman’s Informal Senate Attire Causes Frustration on Both Sides of the Aisle on Capitol Hill

Fetterman’s Informal Senate Attire Causes Frustration on Both Sides of the Aisle on Capitol Hill
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 17, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Savannah Hulsey Pointer

Lawmakers reacted to the change in dress code in the United States Senate and Sen. John Fetterman’s (D-Pa.) appearance in casual attire to preside over the governing body.

The Pennsylvania lawmaker presided over the Senate on Sept. 20, as the Senate leader, wearing a button-up, short-sleeve shirt, and shorts just two days after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his decision that the Senate Sergeant at Arms staff would no longer compel senators to wear formal clothes on the Senate floor.

“There has been an informal dress code that was enforced,” Mr. Schumer said in a press statement on Sept. 18. “Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit.”

Some senators have asserted that Mr. Schumer’s move to alter the Senate dress standard undermines body etiquette and respect.

One of the leading members of the Senate Democrats, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) voiced frustration about Mr. Schumer’s decision to end the dress code, saying in an interview posted to X, formerly Twitter, on Sept. 21, “I want to give him the benefit of the doubt…but I think [the] Senate needs to act on this.

“The senator in question from Pennsylvania is a personal friend, but I think we need to have standards when it comes to what we’re wearing on the floor of the Senate, and we’re in the process of discussing that right now …”

Politico reported on Sept. 19 that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was also frustrated by Mr. Fetterman’s actions, saying he spoke to the Pennsylvania Democrat on the code change.

“I said, ‘John, I think it’s wrong & there’s no way I can comply with that’… I wanted to tell him directly that I totally oppose it & I will do everything I can to try to hold the decorum of the Senate.”

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) spoke out on X, saying, “Allowing casual clothing on the Senate floor disrespects the institution we serve and the American families we represent.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) implied while talking to reporters on Sept. 20 that he would likely change the Senate dress code back to previous standards.
Speaking on the change in the dress code, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joked to reporters that she would “wear a bikini” on the Senate floor, according to a report by The Washinton Examiner.

“I plan to wear a bikini tomorrow to the Senate floor and [Sen.] Chris Coons [D-Del.] is gonna wear shorts because there’s no dress code anymore,” Collins jokingly told reporters Sept. 18 after news of the change broke.

When asked why the change bothered her, Ms. Collins replied, “Because I think there is a certain dignity that we should be maintaining in the Senate, and to do away with the dress code, to me, debases the institution.”

“Now, obviously, I’m not gonna wear a bikini,” she added. “But of all the issues that we have to deal with right now, ranging from the possibility of the government shutting down to what we do about Ukraine, we’re talking about the Senate dress code? That’s extraordinary to me.”

After presiding over the Senate on Wednesday, Mr. Fetterman, who has exchanged jabs with some Republicans over the relaxed dress code, downplayed his informal appearance.

“The world didn’t spin off its axis,” Mr. Fetterman told NBC reporter Frank Thorp following his turn at the Senate rostrum. “You know, I just did it ... I think we will still go on.”

In Congress, Mr. Fetterman has frequently donned shorts, hoodies, and short-sleeve shirts. Prior to Mr. Schumer’s decision to modify the dress code, the junior Pennsylvania senator frequently had to vote from just outside the Senate’s doors due to the standards.

Speaking for himself, Mr. Fetterman said in a Sept. 20 post to X, “If those jagoffs in the House stop trying to shut our government down, and fully support Ukraine, then I will save democracy by wearing a suit on the Senate floor next week.”
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