Why senators are talking about fashion choices instead of bills

One of the biggest debates currently happening on the U.S. Senate floor has nothing to do with things like the looming government shutdown or funding for Ukraine. It’s over what to wear. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that staff for the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms will no longer be tasked with enforcing the unwritten dress code on the Senate floor.

“Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor,” he told Axios, which first reported the news. “I will continue to wear a suit.”

Many believe the move was made to accommodate Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman’s unapologetic preference for wearing shorts and a hoodie — though he does so while voting from doorways to avoid getting in trouble for his clothing choices. 

Senators have traditionally stuck to coats and ties for men and dresses and suits for women. Axios noted lawmakers coming from a flight or a workout have gotten around the informal rules by voting from the edge of the Senate floor, with one foot in the cloakroom, like Fetterman. 

But the new relaxed rules didn’t sit right with GOP senators. 

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine made the joke, “I plan to wear a bikini tomorrow to the Senate floor.” 

Nearly every Senate Republican, 46 in total, signed a letter sent to Schumer on Tuesday demanding he reverse the change for the sake of decorum.

“The world watches us on that floor and we must protect the sanctity of that place at all costs,” they wrote. “Allowing casual clothing on the Senate floor disrespects the institution we serve and the American families we represent.”