Is the Senate dress code fair to John Fetterman?: The U.S. Senate announced plans to relax its dress code, in part to accommodate to the shorts-wearing Senator from Pennsylvania. Then, all hell broke loose.
John Fetterman Just Got Some Crummy News
Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) has had an eventful first year in the U.S. Senate. The senator, who won the election in a competitive swing state to win the only seat flip in the 2022 Senate election, had suffered a stroke the day before he won the Democratic primary. Shortly after his arrival in Washington, Fetterman was hospitalized for several weeks for clinical depression.
Fetterman has since returned to the Senate and shown improved speech abilities following his stroke; it has even set off some ludicrous conspiracy theories about Fetterman supposedly being replaced by a body double.
But last month, the senator landed at the center of an unlikely culture war that had little to do with politics and a lot more to do with the way he dresses.
In mid-September, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced that he was relaxing the Senate dress code. He did not say at the time that it was to accommodate Fetterman, who favors sweatshirts, hoodies, and shorts, but it was widely seen that way.
“Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor,” Schumer said in a statement to the media. “I will continue to wear a suit.”
The decision set off a backlash, and not only among Republicans. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), in particular, was reported to be outraged about Schumer’s decision.
“Aren’t there more important things we should be talking about rather than if I dress like a slob?” Fetterman said in an MSNBC interview during the controversy. He later replied in an even more ribald fashion after Rep. Lauren Boebert criticized his clothing choices, shortly after her notorious visit to a Denver theater.
“Though we’ve never had an official dress code, the events over the past week have made us all feel as though formalizing one is the right path forward,” Schumer said in a statement, per CNN. “I deeply appreciate Senator Fetterman working with me to come to an agreement that we all find acceptable, and of course, I appreciate Sen. Manchin and Sen. Romney’s leadership on this issue.”
After the dispute had been settled, Toronto Star columnist Leanne Delap addressed the situation, accusing Fetterman of wanting to “dress like he is taking out the garbage for work.”
Why would a Canadian columnist be concerned with the dressing standards of Senators in the United States? That’s not clear, but Delap clearly feels strongly that Fetterman’s shorts and hoodies have got to go.
“It’s a small detail in the middle of big government issues everywhere. But it’s also a telling attempt to impose a bit of order on a larger state of chaos,” the columnist wrote.
“Fetterman’s ultracasual clothing is a statement of personal branding, but his ‘everyman’ image has been roiling sensibilities on Capitol Hill. The rest of the senate said nay to Schumer’s attempt to schlump up proceedings and yea to the chamber’s first official dress code,” she wrote.
The Senate can make its own decisions about what to require for its members, and that determination has been made. But one thing that’s very clear is that Fetterman’s “everyman” image has made him a tremendously popular politician. It’s not affected — Fetterman even dressed informally at his own wedding, long before he was in politics — but it has worked in Pennsylvania politics. Fetterman has won big statewide races twice, first for lieutenant governor in 2018 and then for the Senate in 2022, the latter after suffering a stroke six months earlier. And Fetterman has outperformed other Democrats in parts of the state where Republicans usually dominate.
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Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Stephen has authored thousands of articles over the years that focus on politics, technology, and the economy for over a decade. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @StephenSilver, and subscribe to his Substack newsletter.
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