The Senate’s new casual dress code appears to be hanging on by a thread.
Why it matters: At least three Democrats are now openly criticizing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) directive to discard the 100-member chamber’s requirement for business attire — and with 47 Republicans stiffly opposed, the new code could be in jeopardy.
Driving the news: Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) — who often has worn more casual clothes since returning to the Senate this spring after being treated for depression — presided over the Senate in a short-sleeve shirt on Wednesday.
That appearance offended some old-school Senate stalwarts in both parties and fueled some behind-the-scenes grumbling among Schumer and Fetterman’s fellow Democrats, according to several senators and aides.
Those private misgivings burst into public Thursday when Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “We need to have standards when it comes to what we’re wearing on the floor of the Senate.”
“And we’re in the process of discussing that right now as to what those standards will be,” Durbin said on SiriusXM’s POTUS channel.
Durbin joined Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) who already were opposed. “I don’t like it,” Kelly said flatly on CNN Wednesday.
Manchin plans to “file a bipartisan resolution to ensure the Senate dress code remains consistent with previous expectations,” according to a spokesperson. Manchin’s effort to get signatures on his proposal is gaining momentum, according to Senate aides.
He has told Fetterman he’s opposed to the changes.
On the Republican side, 46 GOP senators wrote to Schumer, asking him to reverse his decision. Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) also said she was opposed but preferred to resolve the issue in private.
What we’re watching: Even among Democrats who publicly dismissed the controversy as a Republican distraction, most said they’d stick to wearing business attire on the Senate floor — and said they’d require their staffs to do the same.
“I am not going to change what I’m doing, I will just tell you that,” Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana farmer, told Axios. “My personal opinion is, you got to dress respectfully.”
He will still demand that his staffers “dress good,” he said. “It’s part of the deal.”
Schumer’s office declined to comment.
The other side: Fetterman appeared to relish taunting Republicans with his new freedom.
“If those jagoffs [sic] in the House stop trying to shut our government down, and fully support Ukraine, then I will save democracy by wearing a suit on the Senate floor next week,” Fetterman said in a statement.
“It’s all irrelevant and silly,” Fetterman told Axios. “They don’t want to talk about the real issues because they have indefensible positions.”
“They want to talk about, you know, that I dress like a slob.”
Go deeper: Schumer’s decision to scrap the Senate’s dress code touched a nerve at a time when frustrations are building over House Republicans’ inability to endorse spending plans to avoid a government shutdown on Sept. 30.
“It’s about disrespecting the institution of the Senate created by the Constitution of the United States of America,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Axios. “I think it’s a race to the bottom.”
“I don’t think it was necessary,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) told Axios. “Going through the rules process would have been good.”
Between the lines: The new, relaxed rule only applies to senators — and not staffers. But for staffs, there have long been two different dress codes on Capitol Hill: Recess wear and session attire.
When the Senate is in session, the attire is all business.
During recess, Senate fashion falls somewhere between a country club’s 19th hole and a college campus: A mix of polo shirts, sun dresses, sockless loafers and sandals. Jeans are as common as chinos.
The bottom line: The Senate isn’t going to grind to a halt over a dress code change. But it has given senators one more thing to fight over.