Opinion: A goverment shutdown looming, and we’re talking about suits?

Photo/Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press / Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., walks on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Washington.

It's the greatest scandal to hit D.C.

Nope, it's not Watergate. Not Barack Obama wearing a tan suit.

It's the lack of suits, actually, that has created a surprising amount of conflict in our nation's capital.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said on Monday that staff for the chamber's sergeant-at-arms won't have to enforce a dress code on the Senate floor.

"There has been an informal dress code that was enforced," Schumer said in a statement Monday. "Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit."

This decision was prompted by the casual attire sported by first-term U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pennsylvania.

Many lawmakers on the right believe that the now-lax dress code tarnishes the integrity of the job.

The Republican senator from Maine, Susan Collins, believes the dress code changes diminish Senate proceedings. "I think there is a certain dignity that we should be maintaining in the Senate, and to do away with the dress code, to me, debases the institution," Collins said Tuesday.

Fetterman, however, doesn't understand the fuss.

"Aren't there more important things we should be talking about rather than if I dress like a slob?" the Pennsylvania senator said in an interview.

Well, Fetterman, if that were the case then the House wouldn't have just ordered an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden as Congress faces a government funding showdown. The senator's choice to dress down, to wear a black T-shirt, jeans and the occasional hoodie is his to make.

And it's a choice that other Americans are making.

We're talking about suits?

The COVID-19 pandemic took away our "normal." Work from home meant people could do their jobs in sweats and sweatshirts. And employees are loathe to give that freedom up. As workers return to the office, dress codes are relaxing.

Let's take a look at what major companies are requiring their workers to wear. JP Morgan now has a business casual dress code. The financial firm Goldman Sachs also removed its suit requirement. If big companies can change their dress codes, why is it such a big deal to the Senate?

Because it is a big deal, apparently.

Late Tuesday, Tennessee's Republican Sens. Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn, along with more than 40 of their GOP colleagues wrote a letter to Majority Leader Schumer expressing "our supreme disappointment and resolute disapproval of your recent decision to abandon the Senate's longstanding dress code for members, and urge you to immediately reverse this misguided action."

The GOP's letter continued, saying that "allowing casual clothing on the Senate floor disrespects the institution we serve and the American families we represent." If only they felt this strongly about gun violence.

The concept of clothes being "casual" is a man-made construct. Clothes are meant to be comfortable and represent who you are. Fetterman's choice of attire might not be up to his colleagues' standards but he is showcasing his authentic self; that should be respected.

Having a dress code is not just about setting a subjective definition of decorum, but about seeing what makes people comfortable and ensuring they can work to their full potential.

The purpose of a dress code is to promote inclusivity within a workplace, school or in this case, the Senate floor. Schumer's relaxing of the dress code does just that.

The leadership we seek must be welcoming of all people, regardless of what hairstyles or clothes they choose to wear.

What makes a leader?

Does the fabric or layers of clothes Fetterman wears change his ability to represent the people of Pennsylvania? What's wrong with him dressing like many of his constituents? His choices make him more relatable than unprofessional, something that senators across the aisle would like to paint him as.

The attacks on Fetterman and Schumer are from a group of privileged people who don't know how to tackle the real issues at hand so instead attack people for how they choose to dress.

This dispute is a childish waste of time. There's still a deal that needs to be reached to avoid a government shutdown.

Whether it comes in jorts, a turtleneck sweater and fanny pack combo or even a pair of crocs in sport mode, leadership is what this country needs. Now more than ever.

There needs to be more conversation on how to move this country forward than what a person wears.