Axios has discovered that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has discreetly instructed the Senate’s Sergeant at Arms to cease enforcing the chamber’s informal dress code for its members.
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who prefers gym shorts and sweatshirts to the formal clothes that are normally required in the chamber, will be able to stay on the Senate floor before and after votes thanks to the new instruction.
It is up to the senators to decide what to wear on the Senate floor. I’ll keep dressing in suits,” Schumer told Axios in a statement.
When Fetterman was first elected last year, he dressed in suits as was customary in the Senate. Though he was treated for mental depression early this year, he returned to the Senate and has often worn the laid-back style that made him famous as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor.
A Senate spokesman said that the revised rule will take effect this week. Only senators will be affected by the move; staff employees must continue adhere to the previous dress code.
According to that norm, both sexes have had to show up to the Senate floor dressed professionally, which for men has included a coat and tie. Senators may vote from the edge of the Senate floor, with one foot still in the cloakroom, to get around the clothing rules, even if they had just gotten off a plane or worked out.
To cast their vote, they might step back out of the room and hold their thumb up or down. They were not, technically, deemed to have violated the dress code of the floor. This is how Fetterman and other senators have voted.
Whether the Senate dress code is a formal, written policy is debatable. The Sergeant at Arms seems to enforce it more as an informal habit.
Axios phoned top officials on Friday, but none of them could locate a written copy of the guidelines. This omission has also baffled several on social media.
Between the lines: According to New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer’s book “The Firsts: the Inside Story of the Women Reshaping Congress,” five years ago, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) petitioned her colleagues to make some adjustments in the dress code.
Following some grousing from men, the dress codes for women were loosened. After then, ladies were permitted to display their arms on the Senate floor. The triathlete Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) frequently sports a sleeveless look.
On the other hand, the more formal House rules have also been contested and revised recently.
During the summer of 2017, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) requested that the House Sergeant at Arms update the dress code for the lower chamber.
He was reacting to a social media frenzy concerning the attire required of female reporters, which developed into a larger legislative protest movement.
At one point on the House floor, then-Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said, “Before I yield back, I want to point out I’m standing here in my professional attire, which happens to be a sleeveless dress and open-toed shoes,” CBS News reports.
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) was the House speaker from 2011 to 2015, and he was a fierce upholder of the previous dress code.
“Despite their brief floor appearances, members of the House should always dress appropriately for all of its sittings. In 2015, Boehner declared, “You know who you are.”
The statement reads as follows: “Generous interpretations of the Senate floor dress code can only stretch so far before you have to square up and make formal changes,” according to longtime Senate staffer Eric Ueland.
“Perhaps this round will also safeguard senators’ and staffers’ floor rights to refuse to wear socks.”
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