August 15, 2023
Pike Road, AL
August 15, 2023
Pike Road, AL
POLITICO (“Senate confirms Army and Marine chiefs, bucking Tuberville logjam“):
The Senate overwhelmingly approved two four-star generals to lead the Army and Marine Corps Thursday, as members made a small dent in Sen. Tommy Tuberville‘s blockade of senior Pentagon nominees.
Gen. Eric Smith’s successful 96-0 confirmation vote to be the next Marine commandant followed Gen. Randy George’s approval as Army chief of staff. A day earlier, the Senate cleared Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown to be the next Joint Chiefs chair.
But the trio of confirmations does not mean Democrats are declaring victory. With 300 generals and admirals at the upper rungs of the armed forces still stranded, senators still have to find a way to maneuver around the Alabama Republican’s promotions hold, which is still in effect, in protest of the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy. Lawmakers have pledged to keep up public pressure on Tuberville to change course.
The showdown has also ensnared the nominees for Air Force chief of staff, Gen. David Allvin; the chief of naval operations, Adm. Lisa Franchetti; the head of the Missile Defense Agency, Maj. Gen. Heath Collins; and the nominee for the Pentagon’s top policy post, Derek Chollet.
Smith was the Marine Corps’ No. 2 officer and has commanded at every level, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a general, he led Marine Corps’ forces in U.S. Southern Command, as well as Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
George was the Army’s vice chief of staff and before that was Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s senior military aide. He is an infantry officer who served in the 101st Airborne Division and deployed in support of the Gulf War.
George was confirmed 96-1, with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) casting the sole “no” vote.
President Joe Biden nominated both generals in the spring and they each stepped into their service’s top role on an acting basis during the summer, when their predecessors retired.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for months has refused to hold standalone votes on military nominees to get around Tuberville’s hold, but reversed course Wednesday and agreed to hold votes on the three top picks after Tuberville forced Democrats’ hand by planning to force a vote on Smith.
Questions are swirling about Democrats’ strategy for getting the rest confirmed, but Schumer was tight-lipped, telling reporters only “You’ll see.” Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said the onus is on Republicans to get Tuberville to relent.
While Tuberville has insisted for months he’s felt no pressure from Democrats or his own party, Democrats cast his move to advance a vote for Smith as him bowing to Republican critics, and said they seized the chance to advance all three officers.
“But there are still 300 military officers in limbo, and that’s detrimental to the United States,” Reed said. “There are so many other people like Gen. George who are suffering and their families are too … It’s solely forced by [Tuberville’s] desire to make [military] officers tokens in political battles — and it’s wrong, and we’re going to push and push and push.”
While Reed’s point is absolutely right in the main, it’s wrong in the particular. Because George and Smith are simply fleeting up from the deputy to the main job, there’s pretty minimal family impact. Smith will get to move into the Commandant’s mansion at 8th and I, so the timing for that is a little less than convenient. But I’m pretty sure his kids are out of school at this point.
My understanding is that Franchetti, who was nominated much more recently than the others, is still in committee. I expect she’ll be confirmed relatively soon. I have no idea where the other high-level nominees stand. Meanwhile, the 300-odd lower-ranking officers and their families are very much in limbo.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) called the remaining vacancies “untenable” and noted that advancing the officers will leave three new senior vacancies.
“We’re taking three steps forward and three steps backward,” said Duckworth, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “These are three very important jobs but there are 300 other jobs that are also important to our national security.”
Despite the mild irony that she placed an even wider hold three years ago—albeit for a much more discrete purpose directly tied to military promotions—she’s right. And it may be more problematic in those cases, since it’s less likely that the successor happens to be one rung down the ladder in the same office.
More than 300 senior promotions are still frozen as Tuberville refuses to allow their speedy confirmation. Tuberville has insisted Democrats can just simply hold votes on individual picks, but Democrats and the administration have noted that to do so would take hundreds of hours and totally dominate the Senate’s calendar.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a Biden ally, said more votes in groups of two or three would not be appropriate. He credited the progress on Wednesday and Thursday to Republican pressure on Tuberville and said it should continue until there’s a broader breakthrough.
“There was some modest movement — we will have confirmed just three of 300, the most significant and senior but just three,” Coons said. “And we also just had a demonstration of what would happen if we actually proceed with confirming every one of them. It would shut down the Senate for a year and we would get nothing else done.”
Not to take the onus off of Tuberville, on whose shoulders the blame squarely lies, but if the Senate would grind to a halt if they had to actually confirm these officers, it’s a pretty clear signal that the normal process is pro forma. They should simply delegate promotion authority for 3-star and below to the Secretary of Defense on a by-exception basis. If a Senator has an actual objection—as Duckworth did in the matter of Sandy Vindman—than they would still have the ability to force oversight.
Tuberville, claiming victory, said will continue to demand that each nominee be considered individually until the Pentagon policy is reversed.
“So, to be clear, my hold is still in place,” Tuberville said Wednesday. “The hold will remain in place as long as the Pentagon’s illegal abortion policy remains in place. If the Pentagon lifts the policy, then I will lift my hold. It’s as easy as that.”
While one would think the Republican leadership could inflict pain on Tuberville for this stunt, it also seems like there are other ways around the issue. The Senate could hold a standalone vote on the DOD policy and, if it votes to reverse, then it could go to the House. (Or vice-versa, since it would have a better chance of going Tuberville’s way in the Republican-controlled House.)
WaPo (“Senate confirms Joint Chiefs chair in respite from Tuberville blockade“):
The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with Democrats briefly relenting in their ongoing feud with Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) to push through President Biden’s nominee for the military’s top job.
The 83-11 vote avoids what had been the embarrassing prospect of a temporary administrator filling the Pentagon’s most prestigious post. Yet it leaves about 300 other senior officers ensnared in Tuberville’s months-long hold on military promotions with no clear path to advancement, as the underlying political standoff over the Defense Department’s abortion policy exhibits no signs of abating.
Brown, who becomes only the second African American, after Gen. Colin Powell, to ascend to the chairman’s post, was confirmed after Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) chose to peel away the nomination for an individual vote. Senior officer promotions are typically approved by the Senate through unanimous consent to avoid lengthy floor debates and the politicization of votes around military commanders.
Schumer also moved forward with what could be individual confirmation votes on Marine Corps Gen. Eric M. Smith and Army Gen. Randy George to lead their respective services, appearing to leave open the possibility that the Senate will move to install new heads of the Navy and Air Force once their nominations clear scrutiny from the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The 11 senators voting against Brown were all Republicans: Mike Braun (Ind.), Ted Cruz (Tex.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Mike Lee (Utah), Roger Marshall (Kan.), Eric Schmitt (Mo.), J.D. Vance (Ohio), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Cynthia M. Lummis (Wyo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Tuberville.
A spokesperson for Brown said the general had no immediate comment.
In a statement congratulating Brown, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called him “a tremendous leader” and said “it is well past time” to confirm the other military nominees. “The brave men and women of the U.S. military deserve to be led by highly-qualified general and flag officers at this critical moment for our national security,” he added.
Tuberville imposed his hold on all senior military nominations in February, staging a dramatic protest of the financial assistance rendered to service members and their dependents who must leave the state where they are stationed to obtain an abortion. The Biden administration established the travel-reimbursement policy after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, as Republican-led states began to ban or severely restrict access to reproductive health care.
Until Wednesday, Democrats had refused to vote on the nominations individually, as Tuberville suggested they should. Schumer and other Democrats had long argued that to deviate from the Senate’s standard procedure of approving noncontroversial military nominations in large batches would serve only to encourage other lawmakers with political grievances to attempt a similar gambit, but they reversed course with Brown’s soon-to-be predecessor, Gen. Mark A. Milley, approaching his Sept. 30 legal deadline to step down from the chairman’s post.
An independent assessment by the Congressional Research Service last month found that working on all frozen nominations one-by-one would take months, even if the Senate focused on virtually nothing else.
After Brown’s confirmation vote, the Senate late Wednesday approved a motion to advance George’s nomination to lead the Army, with a final confirmation vote expected sometime Thursday. Efforts to advance Smith’s nomination to take over the Marines also should take place Thursday.
In a statement attacking Tuberville as “the sole cause of this crisis,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Democrats “have no problem with voting on the most senior military officers” instead of the usual process of unanimous consent.
NYT (“Senate Confirms Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sidestepping Tuberville Blockade“) adds:
“The Senate will overwhelmingly vote to confirm them, and these three honorable men will finally be able to assume their positions,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor. “And the abortion policy that Senator Tuberville abhors will remain in place. Senator Tuberville will have accomplished nothing.”
While Mr. Tuberville said he welcomed their quick approvals, he added he would not relent in his push to do away with the abortion access policy. He was among 11 G.O.P. senators who voted against General Brown’s nomination, despite having indicated to reporters in recent months that he would support it.
“They finally figured out I wasn’t going to give in. I’m still not,” Mr. Tuberville told reporters on Wednesday. “They’ve got to do the right thing and move the policy back.”
The White House praised the action but criticized Mr. Tuberville for refusing to back down.
Mr. Schumer’s move, said John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, was good for the three generals, their military branches and the Defense Department overall, but it “doesn’t fix the problem or provide a path forward for the 316 other general and flag officers that are held up by this ridiculous hold.”
It’s frankly bizarre that Schumer and company didn’t do this weeks ago. While it’s impractical to vote individually on all of the 300-plus nominees who are piling up, they could easily vote on the key billets.
What this is not doing, however, is “circumventing” or “a respite from” Tuberville’s hold. He’s simply withholding unanimous consent and this is the consequence of that: it’s either vote one by one or not at all.
Further, while the criticism of Tuberville is quite justified, his use of this tactic is not unprecedented. Indeed, Tammy Duckworth put a blanket hold on all confirmations for colonel and above in July 2020. Bernie Sanders has a hold on President Biden’s nominee for Director of the National Institutes of Health in an effort to force action on drug prices. JD Vance has had a hold on Justice Department nominees for months as well. The difference is simply one of scale and scope. While Duckworth’s hold was actually wider than Tuberville’s, it was resolved in a matter of days whereas this one has dragged on for months.
The thing is, this isn’t even a traditional hold, wherein on Senator is blocking a confirmation. Tuberville is simply withholding unanimous consent, forcing a debate and floor vote.
Still, it’s clearly well past time to reform Senate rules. It’s not really clear why nominees for one- and two-star officers are even subject to a Senate vote.
AP economics reporter David McHugh : “Germany went from envy of the world to the worst-performing major developed economy. What happened?“
For most of this century, Germany racked up one economic success after another, dominating global markets for high-end products like luxury cars and industrial machinery, selling so much to the rest of the world that half the economy ran on exports.
Jobs were plentiful, the government’s financial coffers grew as other European countries drowned in debt, and books were written about what other countries could learn from Germany.
No longer. Now, Germany is the world’s worst-performing major developed economy , with both the International Monetary Fund and European Union expecting it to shrink this year.
The link, alas, is to a July report, also by McHugh, noting that “the International Monetary Fund forecast this week that Germany would be the globe’s only major economy to shrink this year, even with weak economic growth around the world amid rising interest rates and the threat of growing inflation.” This chart, on the front page of the OECD website, provides the context I was looking for:
Germany has been outperformed by every major country save Argentina this year and is projected to be near the very bottom again next year. Quite the turn of events, indeed.
It follows Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the loss of Moscow’s cheap natural gas — an unprecedented shock to Germany’s energy-intensive industries, long the manufacturing powerhouse of Europe.
Germany decided to abandon its decades-long nuclear energy program in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, with the last of the plants shuttered earlier this year. This left them reliant on Russian gas and, ironically, their own coal—which they’ve naturally also been trying to wean themselves from to combat climate change.
The sudden underperformance by Europe’s largest economy has set off a wave of criticism, handwringing and debate about the way forward.
Germany risks “deindustrialization” as high energy costs and government inaction on other chronic problems threaten to send new factories and high-paying jobs elsewhere, said Christian Kullmann, CEO of major German chemical company Evonik Industries AG.
From his 21st-floor office in the west German town of Essen, Kullmann points out the symbols of earlier success across the historic Ruhr Valley industrial region: smokestacks from metal plants, giant heaps of waste from now-shuttered coal mines, a massive BP oil refinery and Evonik’s sprawling chemical production facility.
These days, the former mining region, where coal dust once blackened hanging laundry, is a symbol of the energy transition , dotted with wind turbines and green space.
The loss of cheap Russian natural gas needed to power factories “painfully damaged the business model of the German economy,” Kullmann told The Associated Press. “We’re in a situation where we’re being strongly affected — damaged — by external factors.”
After Russia cut off most of its gas to the European Union, spurring an energy crisis in the 27-nation bloc that had sourced 40% of the fuel from Moscow, the German government asked Evonik to keep its 1960s coal-fired power plant running a few months longer.
The company is shifting away from the plant — whose 40-story smokestack fuels production of plastics and other goods — to two gas-fired generators that can later run on hydrogen amid plans to become carbon neutral by 2030.
One hotly debated solution: a government-funded cap on industrial electricity prices to get the economy through the renewable energy transition.
The proposal from Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck of the Greens Party has faced resistance from Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, and pro-business coalition partner the Free Democrats. Environmentalists say it would only prolong reliance on fossil fuels .
Kullmann is for it: “It was mistaken political decisions that primarily developed and influenced these high energy costs. And it can’t now be that German industry, German workers should be stuck with the bill.”
Unlike the United States, with only two political parties (one of which has little interest in governing) the Germans have a form of proportional representation and tend to have coalition government. They also have a long history of government, business, and labor working together to balance their competing interests. Still, this is a wicked problem and one largely of their own making.
The price of gas is roughly double what it was in 2021, hurting companies that need it to keep glass or metal red-hot and molten 24 hours a day to make glass, paper and metal coatings used in buildings and cars.
A second blow came as key trade partner China experiences a slowdown after several decades of strong economic growth.
These outside shocks have exposed cracks in Germany’s foundation that were ignored during years of success, including lagging use of digital technology in government and business and a lengthy process to get badly needed renewable energy projects approved.
Other dawning realizations: The money that the government readily had on hand came in part because of delays in investing in roads, the rail network and high-speed internet in rural areas. A 2011 decision to shut down Germany’s remaining nuclear power plants has been questioned amid worries about electricity prices and shortages. Companies face a severe shortage of skilled labor, with job openings hitting a record of just under 2 million.
And relying on Russia to reliably supply gas through the Nord Stream pipelines under the Baltic Sea — built under former Chancellor Angela Merkel and since shut off and damaged amid the war — was belatedly conceded by the government to have been a mistake.
Now, clean energy projects are slowed by extensive bureaucracy and not-in-my-backyard resistance. Spacing limits from homes keep annual construction of wind turbines in single digits in the southern Bavarian region.
A 10 billion-euro ($10.68 billion) electrical line bringing wind power from the breezier north to industry in the south has faced costly delays from political resistance to unsightly above-ground towers. Burying the line means completion in 2028 instead of 2022.
That’s a hell of a delay, but an understandable one. Modern societies concern themselves with aesthetics.
“We’re seeing a worldwide competition by national governments for the most attractive future technologies — attractive meaning the most profitable, the ones that strengthen growth,” Kullmann said.
He cited Evonik’s decision to build a $220 million production facility for lipids — key ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines — in Lafayette, Indiana. Rapid approvals and up to $150 million in U.S. subsidies made a difference after German officials evinced little interest, he said.
“I’d like to see a little more of that pragmatism … in Brussels and Berlin,” Kullmann said.
This is a strange reversal. The United States has long been adverse to industrial policy while most OECD countries have not.
Scholz has called for the energy transition to take on the “Germany tempo,” the same urgency used to set up four floating natural gas terminals in months to replace lost Russian gas. The liquefied natural gas that comes to the terminals by ship from the U.S., Qatar and elsewhere is much more expensive than Russian pipeline supplies, but the effort showed what Germany can do when it has to.
However, squabbling among the coalition government over the energy price cap and a law barring new gas furnaces has exasperated business leaders.
Evonik’s Kullmann dismissed a recent package of government proposals, including tax breaks for investment and a law aimed at reducing bureaucracy, as “a Band-Aid.”
Germany grew complacent during a “golden decade” of economic growth in 2010-2020 based on reforms under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2003-2005 that lowered labor costs and increased competitiveness, says Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg bank.
“The perception of Germany’s underlying strength may also have contributed to the misguided decisions to exit nuclear energy, ban fracking for natural gas and bet on ample natural gas supplies from Russia,” he said. “Germany is paying the price for its energy policies.”
The closure of the nuclear plants was a massive own-goal. Presumably, though, it was a politically popular one. Whether there’s an appetite to rethink the policy—and whether it’s even reversible in the near term—I haven’t the foggiest.
Schmieding, who once dubbed Germany “the sick man of Europe” in an influential 1998 analysis, thinks that label would be overdone today, considering its low unemployment and strong government finances. That gives Germany room to act — but also lowers the pressure to make changes.
The most important immediate step, Schmieding said, would be to end uncertainty over energy prices, through a price cap to help not just large companies, but smaller ones as well.
Whatever policies are chosen, “it would already be a great help if the government could agree on them fast so that companies know what they are up to and can plan accordingly instead of delaying investment decisions,” he said.
These are big, fraught decisions. Fast likely isn’t in the cards.
Most of you have likely seen the reaction to a certain NYT columnists’ tweet earlier this week. Just in case, here’s what he posted:
He was roasted for this when Internet sleuths, noting the glass of whiskey in the background, surmised that the bar tab constituted a significant amount of the $78, which was later confirmed in a vital tweet (or whatever the hell they’re called now) that the burger and fries were around $14 ad the booze “almost 80%.”
In his weekly PBS NewsHour appearance last night, an embarrassed Brooks contended that the whole thing was a poor attempt at a joke:
(Start at 8:22 in the video)
Given how prominently the whiskey is in the photograph, I’m inclined to believe him.
Regardless, he rightly notes that it was in poor taste:
“I was insensitive. I screwed up. I should not have written that tweet.”
“The problem with the tweet, which I wrote so stupidly, was that it made it seem like I was oblivious to something that was blindingly obvious,” he said. “That an upper middle class journalist having a bourbon at an airport is a lot different than a family living paycheck to paycheck. And when I’m getting sticker shock, it’s like an inconvenience. When they’re getting sticker shock, it’s a disaster.”
Aside from it being cute that he thinks he’s merely “upper middle class,” he’s not wrong. And, even more importantly, he notes that people “feel” inflation in the form of higher gas and food prices in ways that the broader economic measures used to gauge inflation and recession do not.
As to price gouging in airports, which has been a staple of late-night comics for decades, a WaPo report notes,
The high cost of airport food has been a consistent complaint for travelers for years. But airports have made an effort in recent years to reimagine the food options that people should have while traveling , including restaurants from classic hometown institutions and notable chefs from the cities they’re in.
In New York, officials announced in 2022 that they were cracking down on high prices for food and drinks at the region’s airports, saying that vendors can’t charge more than “street prices,” or what people would pay outside the airport, plus 10 percent.
I don’t fly nearly as often as I used to but I have noticed that the food has generally gotten better and the prices have become more reasonable.
Meanwhile, Maurice Hallett, the owner of 1911 Smoke House Barbeque, the site of Brooks’ infamous tweet, is making hay of the situation.
Before this week, the restaurant had received regional attention from food bloggers when he introduced a “C-Rock Special” to his menu, in honor of comedian Chris Rock’s role in the 1988 movie “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.” Rock’s character in the film asks for one rib and a sip of Coke, and Hallett has made that exact combo available on his menu for $2.15.[…]
restaurant has capitalized on the attention of the viral post, boasting on Facebook: “We’re the topic of America right now!” Hallett has also made a new meal available to customers: the “D Brooks Special .” Instead of paying $78, customers can get a burger, fries and a double shot of whiskey for $17.78.
“It’s going to be a permanent part of my menu,” he told The Post, saying the special will go underneath the menu item dedicated to Rock.
He added that the item will be available at his Trenton location. Hallett sent the new item to SSP America to get it on the airport menu, but “I doubt they’ll do it.”
As the late Don King would say, Only in America.
Earlier this week, the Senate Majority Leader gave up on trying to get the junior Senator from Pennsylvania to dress like, well, a Senator. People are losing their minds.
AP (“Senate ditches dress code as Fetterman and others choose casual clothes“):
The stuffy Senate is now a bit less formal.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that staff for the chamber’s Sergeant-at-Arms — the Senate’s official clothes police — will no longer enforce a dress code on the Senate floor. The change comes after Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman has been unapologetically wearing shorts as he goes about his duties, voting from doorways so he doesn’t get in trouble for his more casual attire.
“There has been an informal dress code that was enforced,” Schumer said in a statement. “Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit.”
Schumer did not mention Fetterman in his statement about the dress code, which will only apply to senators, not staff.
The changes prompted outrage from some of the chamber’s more formal members, eroding a bit of the good will that first-term Fetterman had earned earlier this year when he checked himself into the hospital for clinical depression. He won bipartisan praise for being honest about his diagnosis, which came in the wake of a stroke he suffered on the campaign trail last year. When he returned from treatment, he started donning the more casual clothes, which he says make him more comfortable.
Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican, said it’s a “sad day in the Senate” and that the people who Fetterman and Schumer represent should be embarrassed.
“I represent the people of Kansas, and much like when I get dressed up to go to a wedding, it’s to honor the bride and groom, you go to a funeral you get dressed up to honor the family of the deceased,” Marshall said. Senators should have a certain level of decorum, he added.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine agreed, arguing that the relaxed rules debase the institution of the Senate. “I plan to wear a bikini tomorrow to the Senate floor,” Collins joked.
Walking to Monday evening’s vote in a short-sleeved button-down shirt and shorts, Fetterman said he wasn’t sure if he’d take advantage of the new rules just yet.
“It’s nice to have the option, but I’m going to plan to be using it sparingly and not really overusing it,” he said.
Asked about the criticism, Fetterman feigned mock outrage.
“They’re freaking out, I don’t understand it,” he said of his critics. “Like, aren’t there more important things we should be working on right now instead of, you know, that I might be dressing like a slob?”
When Fetterman reached the Senate floor, he still voted from the doorway. “Baby steps,” he told reporters as he got on the elevator to go back to his office.
Not all Republicans were upset about the change. Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley was wearing jeans, boots and no tie on Monday evening, an outfit he says he normally wears when he flies in from his home state for the first votes of the week.
“Now I can vote from the Senate floor on Mondays,” Hawley said, noting that he usually wears a suit and tie every other day.
Nearby, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy was also tieless. The Democrat said he’s been reprimanded by Sergeant-at-Arms staff in the past for not wearing a tie on the floor.
“They would tell us when we were doing it wrong,” Murphy said.
It’s unclear if the rules for more formal attire were actually written down anywhere, but Schumer’s directive means that staff will no longer scold senators for their choice of clothing or ask them to vote from the doorway.
While, not shockingly, Republicans are expressing more outrage over the decision (see, for example, NPR ‘s “Republicans slam Senate dress code changes“), a handful of Democratic Senators (Manchin, Tester, Durbin, Kelly) have spoken out as well. (See: Axios , “Now Dems are saying ‘nay’ to Senate’s relaxed dress code.“)
You will not be shocked that Peggy Noonan (“The Senator’s Shorts and America’s Decline“) is among the naysayers.
We are in a crisis of political comportment. We are witnessing the rise of the classless. Our politicians are becoming degenerate. This has been happening for a while but gets worse as the country coarsens. We are defining deviancy ever downward.
Two examples from the past two weeks. One is the congresswoman who was witnessed sexually groping and being groped by a friend in a theater, seated among what looked like 1,000 people of all ages. The other is the candidate for Virginia’s House of Delegates who performed a series of live sex acts with her husband on a pornographic website, and the videos were then archived on another site that wasn’t password-protected. She requested money for each sexual act, saying she was “raising money for a good cause.” Someone called it a breakthrough in small-donor outreach.
It was within this recent context that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did something that isn’t in the same league in terms of shock but nonetheless has a deep institutional resonance. He quietly swept away a centuries-old tradition that senators dress as adults on the floor of the Senate. Business attire is no longer formally required. Mr. Schumer apparently doesn’t know—lucky him, life apparently hasn’t taught him—that when you ask less of people they don’t give you less; they give you much, much less. So we must brace ourselves.
His decision is apparently connected to the desires of Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who enjoys parading around in gym shorts and a hoodie. Why would his desires receive such precedence?
Because he has political needs. He must double down on his brand. He imagines that dressing like a slob deepens his perceived identification with the working class. But this kind of thing doesn’t make you “authentic”; it just makes you a different kind of phony. Mr. Fetterman, born into affluence and privilege, reacted to criticism of Mr. Schumer’s decision with an air of snotty entitlement. He mocked critics, making woo-woo monster sounds to reporters and telling a House critic to “get your s— together.” He said Republicans were “losing their minds” and ought to have better things to do.
Here are reasons John Fetterman, and all senators, should dress like an adult.
It shows respect for colleagues. It implies you see them as embarked on the serious business of the nation, in which you wish to join them.
It shows respect for the institution. “Daniel Webster walked there.” And Henry Clay, “Fighting Bob” La Follette, Arthur Vandenberg and Robert Taft. The U.S. Senate is the self-declared world’s greatest deliberative body.
It shows a mature acceptance of your role, suggesting you’ve internalized the idea of service. You are a public servant; servants by definition make sacrifices.
It reflects an inner discipline. It’s not always easy or convenient to dress like a grown-up. You’ve got to get the suit from the cleaners, the shoes from the cobbler. The effort means you bothered, took the time, went to the trouble.
It reflects an inner modesty. You’d like to be in sneaks and shorts but you admit that what you’d like isn’t the most important thing. It shows that thoughts of your own comfort aren’t No. 1 in your hierarchy of concerns. Also, you know you’re only one of 100, and as 1% of the whole you wouldn’t insist on officially lowering standards for the other 99.
It bows to the idea of “standards” itself, which implies you bow to other standards too, such as how you speak and what you say.
Perhaps a bit more surprisingly, the WaPo Editorial Board (“A casual new dress code doesn’t suit the U.S. Senate“) agrees.
We vote nay. Dressing formally conveys respect for the sanctity of the institution and for the real-world impact of the policies it advances. Putting on a suit creates an occasion for lawmakers to reflect, just for a moment, on the special responsibilities with which the people have entrusted them and on a deliberative process that at least aspires to solemnity. Judges are perfectly “able to choose” what they wear while on the bench, but court wouldn’t be court unless they put on black robes.
Ultracasual though it is, Mr. Fetterman’s clothing probably doesn’t represent the bottom of the slippery slope upon which Mr. Schumer has set Senate style. No, we don’t think Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is going to show up in a bikini, as she jokingly suggested. It is, however, all too imaginable that attention-seeking lawmakers will don T-shirts emblazoned with the names and mascots of their hometown sports franchises — or inflammatory partisan messages — hoping to go viral on social media and garner small-dollar donations.[…]
At the risk of idealizing the place, the Capitol is, or should be, thought of as the temple of the world’s oldest continuous democracy. Within that, the Senate floor is its most sacred space. It was the setting for America’s most consequential debates on war and peace, freedom and slavery. Throughout history, those who participated in its proceedings dressed accordingly. Admittedly, the appropriate level of dignity is subjective; you know it when you see it. And when a senator comes to the floor in pickup softball gear, you don’t.
Culture writer Elena Sheppard at CNN (“Why I changed my mind about the US Senate’s relaxed dress code“):
Initially, I pearl clutched a bit. The thought of no dress code in the Senate sent me into a spiral on the idea of decorum. I imagined a Senate floor littered with people in sweatpants and cut-offs, which I just knew would undermine the seriousness of their work.
I imagined elected officials milling around in cargo shorts and Carhartt sweatshirts — aka what Sen. John Fetterman calls “Western PA business casual” — or wearing their pajamas to a vote. I thought about how this green light to dress down would devalue the importance of this legislative body and their responsibility to American citizens.
And then I realized my worries made no sense. Style is ever-changing, politics are ever-evolving and attire getting more casual is an age-old complaint. When we think about a choice like the change to a dress code it’s important to see it in its larger context.
Over the years, other dress code changes have occurred in the Senate without disaster. In 1993 female senators were—at last—permitted to wear pants on the Senate floor. In 2019 the Senate finally stopped enforcing a rule that prohibited female senators from baring their shoulders.
That dress codes have been used to feminize, and disempower, women throughout history is news to no one. A look at images of the Senate over the years shows the evolving fashion for male senators too — from waistcoats and tails in the early 19th century to suits and ties in the early 21st.[…]
Historically speaking, dress codes are a way of marking social hierarchy and, with respect to politics, have always been a way of making a statement. When George Washington was inaugurated in 1789 he wore a “plain brown woolen suit of American manufacture” — the choice a clear rebuke of the aristocratic British traditions from which his new nation had successfully revolted. His suit, simply put, was a political choice.
Rhonda Garelick , the D.E. Hughes Jr. Distinguished Chair for English and Professor of Journalism by courtesy at Southern Methodist University, took to the NYT to explain “What We Lose When We Loosen Dress Codes.”
The fact is that how we dress in various settings is inextricable from serious political issues. How we dress telegraphs intricate messages to those around us, as well as to ourselves — messages we receive and interpret constantly, consciously or not. There is no such thing as “total freedom” of dress, only different registers of meaning, which are entirely context dependent. Just as words make sense only relationally — in sentences and paragraphs — garments have meaning only in relation to other garments. A tuxedo’d guest at a wedding is unexceptional, nearly invisible. A tuxedo’d guest at a picnic is a spectacle.[…]
John Fetterman in a hoodie and shorts or Ted Cruz in a polo shirt might read as athletic or relaxed, conjuring the basketball court or golf course — places associated with youthful male prowess or preppy privilege. Would we think the same of Susan Collins dressed similarly? Leisure wear for women risks depriving them of gravitas, making them look “off duty,” and hence outside the space of authority. (Senator Collins acknowledged as much when she joked about wearing a bikini to work.) Would women in the Senate in sweatshirts, yoga pants or tennis skirts be taken seriously? To put it another way, women’s dignity and authority remain, alas, more socially precarious than men’s — harder to construct sartorially and far easier to lose. Taking away the dress code might exacerbate this inequity. What’s more, formal business attire offers some of the most gender-neutral fashion options, thereby enhancing sartorial equity for nonbinary individuals.
And what about the inequity within the Senate workplace as a whole? The new freedom of dress applies to senators only, not to anyone else who works there. This could lead to a new kind of visual class stratification, wherein a group of older (median age of 65.3), mostly white (88 percent), mostly male people (75 percent) in various states of leisure wear is being served by a cadre of younger, less well paid, more ethnically diverse interns and staff members all in formal business wear. In such a context, the business attire of nonsenators might start looking disturbingly like waiters’ uniforms at a country club. Hardly a liberating or egalitarian message. Context is everything.
Finally, dress codes are a marker of social, national, professional or philosophical commonality. They bespeak shared ideals or training, membership in a group. This is why sports teams and the military wear uniforms. Why medical professionals wear white coats. Business attire may not be a uniform, exactly, but it serves a similar function. It’s true that in recent years, offices have loosened their dress codes, embracing all kinds of workplace attire. But the Senate is more than just a “workplace.” It represents the highest level of our country’s government, whose actions are watched by and hold consequences for the entire world. Such an august body needs to look the part. A sea of 100 adults all dressed in some kind of instantly recognizable, respectful manner — a suit and tie, a skirt and jacket — creates a unified visual entity. A group in which individuals have agreed to subsume their differences into an overarching, sartorial whole.
But as we all know, the Senate has never been more divided. In a body so riven, one of the last symbolic markers of accord is a dress code. Can such a code eliminate the profound differences beneath the surface? Of course not. But it does remind senators and everyone around them (including the general public) of the still-noble goal of consensus. A sum greater than its parts.
In principle and practice, I agree with the naysayers. While the business suit has become something of a costume, seldom worn outside formal occasions these days, there is nonetheless something simultaneously respectful and equalizing in everyone dressing the part. I continue to wear at least a sportcoat when around students, and almost always wear a suit and tie when lecturing or leading a seminar. And students absolutely notice and appreciate the effort.
Further, I absolutely agree that there’s something very undemocratic of allowing Senators to wear what they want while insisting that low-paid staffers and unpaid interns continue to wear business attire.
At the same time, I’m reminded of George Will’s long-ago rationale for coming to support term limits: a realization that his counterargument amounted to, “If we impose term limits, we won’t have the good government we have now.”*
We’ve been making Senators wear suits on the Senate floor since time immemorial and yet here we are, with a dysfunctional body. While the Members are doubtless by and large professional towards one another off camera, there’s too much open disregard for the institution.
Do I think changing the dress code will help? No. But it’s rather clear that it isn’t having the benefits that its advocates claim.
*I’m paraphrasing from memory. The Google Machine isn’t returning the exact quotation, which has to be 30 years or more old by now.
NPR (“UAW significantly ramps up strikes against GM and Stellantis — but not Ford“):
The United Auto Workers union will expand its strike against two of the Big Three automakers, ramping up pressure on the companies to reach deals on new contracts — with President Biden set to join the historic strike in an extraordinary move of support.
UAW workers at 38 GM and Stellantis parts distributions centers, spread across 20 states, walked off the job at 12 p.m. ET on Friday after UAW President Shawn Fain said the two companies had failed to budge on key issues in ongoing talks for a new contract.
Fain said the union would not expand its strike against Ford, citing progress on its talks with the automaker, although an existing strike at a plant in Wayne, Mich., would continue.[…]
Fain also invited President Biden to join workers on the picket line — and Biden later confirmed he would travel to Michigan next week.
“Tuesday, I’ll go to Michigan to join the picket line and stand in solidarity with the men and women of UAW as they fight for a fair share of the value they helped create,” Biden tweeted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“It’s time for a win-win agreement that keeps American auto manufacturing thriving with well-paid UAW jobs.”
Former President Donald Trump – the front-runner in the GOP primary race — has also said he plans to go to Detroit next week.
Roughly 5,600 workers at GM and Stellantis distribution centers across the country will join the approximately 13,000 employees at three Midwest auto plants who were the first to walk off the job last week, when the union’s contracts with the automakers expired.
This latest expansion will strategically hit GM and Stellantis facilities that supply car parts to dealerships. It also spotlights the two-tier wage system that the UAW is fighting to eliminate, as some workers at these parts distrubution centers have a lower maximum pay rate than workers elsewhere.
Fain’s so-called “stand up” strike strategy is intended to keep Ford, General Motors and Stellantis on their toes with sudden, targeted strikes at strategic locations, rather than having all of the nearly 150,000 UAW auto workers walk off their jobs at once.
This, naturally, raises the question of why the automakers don’t simply lock out the UAW-organized workers everywhere rather than allowing the union to do selective damage. They have, but only sporadically:
The automakers have responded with temporary layoffs, blaming the supply disruptions caused by the strikes.
General Motors has temporarily laid off most of the approximately 2,000 unionized workers at its Fairfax assembly plant in Kansas as a result of the ongoing UAW strikes. The other two companies have also announced temporary layoffs at a smaller scale.
So far, the companies have failed to present wage offers that the union sees as adequate, though the automakers say they’ve put generous offers on the table.
POLITICO (“Biden to join the picket line in UAW strike“) expands on the President’s gesture:
His decision to stand alongside the striking workers represents perhaps the most significant display of union solidarity ever by a sitting president. Biden’s announcement comes a week after he expressed solidarity with the UAW and said he “understand[s] the workers’ frustration.”
The announcement of his trip was seen as a seismic moment within certain segments of the labor community. “Pretty hard-core,” said one union adviser, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Biden had earlier attempted to send acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and senior adviser Gene Sperling, who has been the White House’s point person throughout the negotiations, to Detroit to assist with negotiations. However, the administration subsequently stood down following conversations with the union. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said earlier Friday it was a “mutually agreed upon decision.”
The president’s plans come as some Democrats have begun to question his response to the strike , recognizing that he needs the full backing of union workers in his presidential reelection bid.
As for Trump:
Former President Donald Trump also has plans to visit Michigan next week. Despite backlash from Fain, the leading candidate in the Republican presidential primary will visit current and former workers next Wednesday — the same day his competitors in the field take the debate stage in California. A person familiar with Trump’s plans said that he is “unlikely to go to the picket line” but that such a stop “has not been ruled in or out.”
Jason Miller, a spokesperson for Trump, criticized Biden’s decision to go to Detroit in his own post on X.
“The only reason Biden is going to Michigan on Tuesday is because President Trump announced he is going on Wednesday,” Miller wrote.
One suspects UAW workers already have a pretty strong preference between Biden and Trump that’s unlikely to change based on these photo ops. Given that car prices are already radically higher than they were when he took office, I’m a bit surprised that Biden is doubling down in his active support for the union. There are far more voters who will be angry that they’re having to pay yet more—both because of the short-term supply issues and longer-term pass-alongs once a settlement is reached—than there are auto workers who will benefit.
The UAW demands seem absurd in the face of the larger economy, especially since the Big Three have to compete not only against foreign imports but non-union American workers in so-called right to work states. But the manufacturers have done a horrendously poor job of messaging. We know what the UAW is demanding but have no idea what the counter-offers are. Given that the strikers are already earning considerably more than comparably-skilled workers elsewhere in the economy, that seems unwise.