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Lawmakers give new Senate dress code a facelift


Sen. JD Vance of Ohio accused President Biden of trying to flood the nation’s heartland with fentanyl to “punish people who didn’t vote for him.” He enthusiastically promoted the false claim that former President Donald J. Trump won the 2020 election. And recently, he announced plans to block all Justice Department nominations until it ends. end what he describes as a “political prosecution” of Mr. Trump.

But what really infuriated Mr. Vance on Tuesday was the Senate’s loosening of the dress code, which he said would demean American government institutions.

“My grandfather, who I never saw wear a suit and who, to my knowledge, did not own one, would never have stood for the United States Senate without dressing properly,” Mr. Vance said, who grew up poor in Appalachia and today buys his custom suits from an Italian tailor in Cincinnati. “Many workers in this country respect this building. They’re frustrated by it, but they respect it and I think the dress code should reflect that.

The recent decision by Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, to relax the Senate’s informal dress code and allow members to enter the chamber in casual attire, or even sports attire, has sparked waves of dismay and cries of dismay. in the stuffy upper room. Many senators, mostly Republicans, have publicly expressed concerns along the same lines as Mr. Vance’s and have said privately that the change could harm America’s standing on the international stage.

Even some Democrats say they are dismayed. At the Capitol on Tuesday, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he told Sen. John Fetterman, the Pennsylvania Democrat whose hoodie-and-athletic-shorts outfit appears to have motivated the change, that he thought the decision was “false” and that he would do everything in his power to “try to maintain the decorum” of the Senate.

“Senator Schumer has done everything he can to destroy the traditions of the Senate,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “This is another indication that he does not respect the Senate as an institution.”

Senator Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, said that “people who dress like scumbags tend to think they can act like scumbags.”

“We have a pretty bad reputation right now for our lack of courtesy and decorum, and that just takes us to the lowest point,” she added.

Sen. Susan Collins, a 70-year-old Republican from Maine who favors modest, fitted skirt suits, joked that she would protest by showing up to work in a bikini, an image so incongruous that she had nothing to say about it. more.

The new rules, which direct the sergeant at arms to no longer enforce the long-standing dress code for members, appear to have been changed primarily to accommodate Mr. Fetterman. Since returning to the Senate after being hospitalized for depression, Mr. Fetterman has refused to put his imposing 6-foot-8 frame in a suit, instead roaming the Capitol in breezy basketball shorts and oversized sweatshirts. The rule change will now allow him to enter the chamber, and even preside over it, in his preferred state of disorder.

“Oh my God!” Mr. Fetterman spoke sarcastically Tuesday about concern about what would happen to the nation’s Capitol if he presided over the Senate in a hoodie. “I think everything will be fine. The Republicans think I’m going to burst in doors and start break dancing on the floor in shorts. I don’t think it will be a big problem.

Online, Mr. Fetterman has enjoyed pointing out instances in which Republicans who have criticized him for his clothing choices have not behaved with much dignity or decorum, even when wearing business pants or dresses.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, called it “shameful” that the Senate was “lowering the bar” by changing its dress code.

“Fortunately, the nation’s lower house lives by a higher code of conduct: displaying ding-a-ling photos in a public hearing,” Mr. Fetterman responded, referring to Ms. Greene’s decision during A recent House committee hearing displayed oversized nude photos of the president’s son, Hunter Biden, engaged in sexual acts.

The dress code drama, insignificant as it may seem in a week when Congress moves ever closer to a government shutdown, has sparked a real debate about what it means to show respect for the body in which one serves – especially at a time when it is difficult to act. Right-wingers who feel they have been sent to Washington to dismantle the government and disrupt its sacred institutions are exercising their influence.

For many, gym shorts can be a sign of disrespect. But many of the best-dressed members of Congress have not always acted in ways that demonstrate respect for democratic institutions.

Representative Jeff Van Drew, the former New Jersey Democrat who switched parties in 2019 and pledged his “undying support” for Mr. Trump, shows up to work most days wearing a four-point pocket square. In 2021, he voted to overturn the results of the presidential election.

Rep. George Santos, the Long Island Republican who has been accused by federal prosecutors of money laundering, stealing public money, wire fraud and making false statements to Congress, among other crimes, regularly appears preppy and stylish in her iconic layered crewneck sweaters. crisp white button-down shirts. Despite his chic outfits, his Republican colleagues largely treat him as a pariah who only brings notoriety by association.

Some members have argued that it is not lawmakers’ dress code, but their failure to address pressing issues of national importance that draws disrespect from allies abroad.

Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a freshman Democrat from Texas, said she spent much of the summer vacation on a bipartisan congressional trip to Southeast Asia, where leaders she met in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia were perplexed by the congressional paralysis. “When we asked why our exchange numbers were down at universities, they talked about gun violence,” she said, noting that Congress has not been able to muster bipartisan consensus to enact additional gun control measures in response to an epidemic of mass shootings.

Asked why a dress code should be so important in a political moment defined by “ding-a-ling” images, Mr. Vance laughed.

“We should set standards of behavior, recognizing that many people, most people, will fail from time to time,” he said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio was one of the few Democratic senators unhappy with the dress code and related respect issues, for a variety of reasons.

“I can come in dressed as I want and the workers can’t?” said Mr. Brown, noting that the change would not extend to staff members who work in the room. “If we are allowed to dress casually, they should be allowed to dress casually. For me, it’s a question of dignity at work.