Stop the presses!

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., middle, walks to the Senate chambers in the Capitol Building last week. Many Republicans are blaming Fetterman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s decision to allow senators to wear casual clothes on the Senate floor. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/TNS

Or whatever other device to which you turn for news.

Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, hard-line Republican loudmouth from the South, finally has said something with which – gasp! – I agree.

This unusual moment of comity came on the heels of a directive from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The New York Democrat directed the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms to stop enforcing the body’s unwritten yet faithfully followed dress code, which is coats and ties for men and business attire for women.

Although Greene is not a senator, she still poked her nose into the social network chatter on X, formerly Twitter. “Disgraceful,” she tweeted. “Dress code is one of society’s standards that set etiquette and respect for our institutions. Stop lowering the bar!”

Yeah! Amazingly, I agreed with her. That’s probably because, well, I’m old. I appreciate the enduring niceties from more courteous and respectful times.


I was raised to believe you should show your respect for important institutions, jobs and events by dressing in a way that won’t be mistaken for a visiting high school tour group. With that in mind, I was encouraged to see Greene calling for maintaining the dress code because of “etiquette and respect for our institutions.”

What a refreshing contrast her stated respect for “institutions” was from her failed attempt two years ago to justify the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the institution where she works, the Capitol. On Steve Bannon’s podcast that year, she tried to downplay the attack as “just a riot at the Capitol and if you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants.”

“Just a riot” is a breathtaking understatement to describe a calamity that led to the deaths of five people and injuries to more than 100 police officers, not to mention that more than 600 people have pleaded guilty to criminal behavior related to Jan. 6.

Now, like many other Republicans, she is pinning the blame for Schumer’s dress code update on Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman, whose sartorial tastes lean to gym shorts and hoodies. Standing at 6 feet, 8 inches, he is a striking standout among most of his colleague in the hallowed marble halls of Congress. In his typical suffer-no-fools-gladly style, he responded to Greene’s scolding with about as much dignity as it deserved.

“Thankfully, the nation’s lower chamber lives by a higher code of conduct: displaying ding-a-ling pics in public hearings,” he wrote on X.

That was a sarcastic reference to Greene’s gratuitous display of sexually explicit images of Hunter Biden during a House committee hearing in July.


Yet, also to my surprise, my throwback attitude appears to have some allies on the Democratic side, most significantly Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who also expressed a less-than-enthusiastic attitude toward abolishing the traditional dress code.

“Well, I’m concerned about it,” he said on “The Briefing Room With Steve Scully” on the SiriusXM POTUS channel.

Durbin said he understood the effort to accommodate Fetterman’s preferences, but there needs to be a limit.

“The senator in question from Pennsylvania is a personal friend,” Durbin said in the radio interview. “But I think 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.”

That’s how most touchy matters are handled in Congress: Refer them to committee.

Questions of custom and propriety are hardly new to Congress. When I am asked why lawmakers make such a big deal out of customs and tradition, I am reminded of the day Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner was brutally beaten with a cane by Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina in 1856 for opposing slavery in the run-up to the Civil War.

We’ve made progress in settling disputes and maintaining decorum since then. But these days, we have to be more vigilant than ever.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He may be contacted at:
Twitter: @cptime

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