Mandatory tie, the only thing that Democratic and Republican senators agree on | International

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In an increasingly polarized United States, the Senate is a reflection of the bitter fights between parties. It is increasingly a rarity for Republican lawmakers to vote in favor of measures proposed by Democrats, and vice versa. But this week the ties and jackets have achieved what neither the war in Ukraine nor the national budgets have been able to: get everyone to agree. They have voted unanimously in favor of an amendment presented by both parties that will force them to wear suits in plenary sessions: a withering reaction to the announcement by the leader of the Democratic majority, Charles Schumer, that last week he had given their honorable Members freedom to dress how they wanted.

Schumer's announcement had fallen like a bomb among the hundred senators. There are few places in the United States where tradition carries as much weight as in the upper house of the US Congress. Inkwells are still placed on their tables. The spittoons remain on the floor of their chamber, although many decades ago their lordships stopped chewing tobacco. The use of laptops is not allowed in the room. It has only been four years since senators have been able to wear sleeveless dresses or open-toed shoes. In this context, the fact that Democratic Senator John Fetterman, who is recovering from depression, walked around the plenary room in shorts with increasing frequency had monopolized the conversations, almost more than the difficulties in reaching an agreement on budget measures. or the war in Ukraine.

It was precisely the confessed disdain for the suits of Fetterman, a giant of almost two meters, that motivated Schumer to announce the end of what until now had been an unwritten rule, but as respected as if it were just another amendment to the US Constitution: the obligation to wear formal attire in plenary sessions (internal rules did require formal attire in committee meetings).

“Senators can choose how they dress on the Senate floor,” Schumer declared when announcing the change. The leader, who has spent three decades in the Upper House, specified that he, personally, would continue to “wear a suit.” The legislators' assistants too, although not by their own decision: the change only benefited the 100 senators, not the rest of the staff who work in the Capitol.

The decision meant that the chamberlain, responsible for ensuring the codes of conduct in the plenary chamber, stopped blocking access to senators who came rushing from the gym or the airport, even dressed in sports clothes or t-shirts. , to participate in a vote. Until now, those who faced this problem solved it by voting from the threshold of the chamber, with one foot inside the cloakroom.

Despite the dust raised, the truth is that there was no written dress code to regulate how senators should dress. There are some more precise rules in the House of Representatives, which specify, among other things, the prohibition of head covering in plenary. Since 2019, this ban includes exceptions for medical or religious reasons, to accommodate the hijab of Democratic Congresswoman Ilham Omar of Minnesota.

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Reforms promoted by senators

There was only a verbal directive asking legislators to dress “appropriately.” Over time, the suit, with its connotations of authority and masculine respectability, became the only acceptable option. It is a trend that was especially accentuated after 1979, when the sessions at the Capitol began to be televised live. Something that began to generate friction as more women candidates were elected to Congress.

1993 has gone down in Senate history as the “pantsuit rebellion.” That year, a hitherto unseen number of women joined the Upper House: six. Half a dozen senators who demanded equality in access to the gym, in the number of toilets and in the acceptance of the use of pants as part of their formal attire.

Again, it was women who promoted the next significant code change. In 2017, and after a series of protests after ushers prevented the passage of a journalist who had her arms in the air, sleeveless dresses and open-toed shoes were included among the clothing considered “appropriate.”

But the freedom of clothing has barely lasted a week. The Republican opposition bench, almost in unison, condemned Schumer's decision from the first moment. 47 of them, out of a total of 49, wrote an open letter urging him to back down. “Allowing casual dress on the Senate floor is disrespectful to the institution we serve and the American families we represent,” they maintained. Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, a 70-year-old political veteran, joked about “going to vote in the plenary sessions in a bikini.”

It was not only Republican legislators, with a supposedly more conservative ideology, who protested against the freedom to wear jeans and T-shirts. Among the Democrats themselves, voices were raised against the idea. “We need to establish guidelines regarding what we wear in the Senate plenary sessions,” declared Dick Durbin, the party's head of internal discipline in the upper house, “right now we are in the process of debating what those should be. guidelines.” Former astronaut Mark Kelly, senator from Arizona, was blunt: he said that he does not like the idea that each legislator can present himself as he pleases in an institution responsible for approving the country's entry into wars.

Even the Washington Postan institution almost as venerable in the American capital as the Senate itself, criticized Schumer's move: the obligation of formal attire "helps express the extreme importance [del Senado] and the impact on the real world of the policies it implements,” he expressed in a forum.

Finally, Senators Joe Manchin (Democrat, West Virginia) and Mitt Romney (Republican, Utah) presented this week a joint resolution that, for the first time, puts in black and white the obligation to wear a suit in plenary sessions. It was approved unanimously on Wednesday. From now on, it is established that male senators must wear a jacket, tie and long pants in plenary sessions. Although it does not specify what is meant by “work attire” in the case of women.

“Although we have never had a dress code, the events of the last week have made us feel that formally adopting one is the right step,” Schumer said. “I appreciate Senator Fetterman working with me to reach an agreement that we all find acceptable, and Senators Manchin and Romney for their leadership on this issue.”

Fetterman, the trigger of the episode, has taken the controversy with humor. On the social network suit in the plenary room.” And now he has assured that during the plenary sessions he will wear a suit, tie and long pants.

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