Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) strolled through the Capitol on Tuesday in the comfort of casual shorts, sneakers and a baggy, button-up short-sleeve shirt.
The first-term senator’s dressed-down attire has been a point of focus, thanks to a relaxation of the Senate’s rules on what members can wear announced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) over the weekend.
“America … it’s about freedom and choice,” Fetterman told The Hill on Tuesday morning about the changes to the Senate dress code. “It’s like [a] Burger King ‘You Rule’ kind of a thing.”
For years, the Senate has strictly enforced its informal dress code for members, with men required to wear suits, ties and business attire on the Senate floor. These rules will still apply to staff and outside visitors.
But under the new rules, more relaxed gear — including a hoodie, sneakers or gym wear — would be OK under the rules, for the senator on the go.
Whether they become a norm — particularly amid some criticism of the dress code change — is much less clear.
On Tuesday, male senators showing up for the weekly caucus lunches were all wearing coats and ties — with the exception of Fetterman, who was clad in shorts and a more casual shirt.
Many said they don’t plan to change what they wear in the chamber, and several Republicans said the dress code change was a step in the wrong direction.
“I think I’m pretty safe in saying most if not all Republican senators think we ought to dress up to go to work. So I can’t imagine that we’re going to be wearing jeans on the Senate floor anytime soon,” Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) told reporters Tuesday.
Other criticisms of Fetterman specifically and the rule change generally have been more pointed.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called the new dress code “disgraceful,” while conservative commentator Monica Crowley called Fetterman “a revolting slob.”
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) accused Democrats of trying to “transform America, to take us to a place that is much less respectful than we historically have been.”
Fetterman denied being a driving force behind the rule change. “No, I really wasn’t,” he said when asked a direct question.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called for a reversal, criticizing a “terrible choice” by Schumer.
“Do you think judges should wear shorts and T-shirts when they’re sitting on the stand?,” asked Romney, who recently announced his retirement at the end of this term. “No, because we want to show respect for the institution of the judiciary. Likewise, this is the government of the United States of America.”
Even the left-leaning hosts of the popular ABC daytime political talk show “The View” panned the rule change.
Some Democrats say the criticism of Fetterman and the new code is nakedly partisan.
Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) shot back at Greene’s comments, accusing her of “bitching about Senate dress code” while her colleagues “drive the federal government off a cliff,” referring to the looming deadline for averting a government shutdown at the end of September.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) echoed Smith, calling the Republican fixation on the dress code amid a possible shutdown “wildly out of touch.”
Not every critique has been so serious.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joked that she planned to “wear a bikini” onto the Senate floor, while Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), a former coach of the Auburn University football team, sarcastically quipped that he might wear his “coaching outfit” the next time he casts a vote.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a firebrand lawmaker who has built a juggernaut conservative media brand, assured his social media followers that he would not wear a Speedo onto the floor, in a response to a remark from conservative podcast “Chicks on the Right” mocking how creative some lawmakers might get in taking advantage of the rule change.
Some of Fetterman’s Democratic colleagues are pushing back on the change.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told The Hill on Tuesday that he spoke with Fetterman directly and told the Pennsylvania lawmaker he thought the changes to the dress code were “wrong” and that not wearing a traditional suit and tie on the Senate floor “degrades” the chamber.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), sporting her “Barbie power pink suit,” appeared not overly shocked by the updated dress code, telling The Hill that “things have been a little loose for a while.”
“I have respect for the chamber; I dress the way that I think is appropriate,” Rosen said. “But I think that there are some things that could be modernized.”
Rosen pushed back against pinning the blame on Fetterman, pointing to former Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who famously claimed to wear shoes with no socks.
“Let’s look back at the people who come from the gym, even if they stand in the hallway,” Rosen said. “Let’s look at all the men who wear cowboy boots and gym shoes on the floor, so let’s not blame one person for this. There’s a lot of offenders.”
Fetterman, who is active on social media, defended the new dress code in response to criticism leveled against him.
“I figure if I take up vaping and grabbing the hog during a live musical, they’ll make me a folk hero,” he tweeted, taking an apparent shot at Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) over the controversy stirred in recent days by her actions at a Denver production of “Beetlejuice.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) joked that he hopes to see “no loin cloths” on the Senate floor anytime in the near future, but said the real benefit will be for the senator on the run.
“For most of us, where it will make the most difference is when you’re stuck somewhere and they’re waiting for you on the floor, and you’ve got to dash to some place and there’s somebody you actually need to talk to, and you can do that,” he said.
When asked about the new dress code during a recent interview with CNN, Fetterman joked that the change is “devastating.”
“It’s mystifying,” he told the network. “I mean, there’s certain much more important kinds of issues we should be addressing. Instead of like, how if I dress like a bum.”
Al Weaver and Alexander Bolton contributed.
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