From MARC LEVY Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. — When John Fetterman travels to Washington in January as one of the new members of the Senate, he’ll bring with him an irreverent style from Pennsylvania that ranges from his own personal dress code — super casual — to hanging marijuana flags outside of his current office in state Capitol.
Pennsylvania’s one-of-a-kind lieutenant governor, who just ceded the state’s vacant Senate seat to Democrats, may be the only senator ever to be declared “American Taste God” — as GQ magazine once did.
The 6-foot-8 Fetterman will tower 3 inches taller than the current tallest Senator, Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas. And he might be the most tattooed senator (if not the only tattooed senator).
He can break a few things: He can be aggressively progressive and fight hard for a promise to exempt the Senate from the filibuster rule. He could also become the Senate’s biggest media attraction: he speaks plain language and has a wicked joke, especially on social media.
He has a fan in Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whom Fetterman endorsed for president in 2016 when Sanders was the insurgent Democrat challenging establishment favorite in the primary, Hillary Clinton.
Sanders called Fetterman’s race the nation’s marquee competition – a victory for a progressive candidate who focused on economic issues, the struggle of the middle class and the increasing wealth of the wealthy.
“And I think if there’s one candidate who ran more than anyone who identified with the working class, who made it clear that he was going to Washington to represent the workers, it was John Fetterman,” said Sanders to The Associated Press.
Fetterman has downplayed his own progressivism. Instead, he said the Democratic Party has come to its longstanding positions — like legalizing marijuana — and emerged as a Democrat who votes like a Democrat.
On the campaign trail, Fetterman said he would like to emulate fellow Pennsylvania state senator Bob Casey, an institution in state politics who campaigned for Fetterman and is loaning his chief of staff to oversee Fetterman’s transition.
Casey doesn’t expect Fetterman’s progressive policies to sideline him, and says Democrats already have a broad coalition that can get things done, like President Joe Biden’s infrastructure legislation and the massive Health Care and Climate Change Act.
“I think you see some kind of broad coalition that will stick together to move the country forward. So I think John will be a good fit,” Casey said. “And there will be times when he has an issue that he wants to pursue that not everyone wants, but we can resolve those.”
Fetterman, 53, has just won the most expensive — and probably most unusual — race of the Senate midterms.
Midway through the campaign, Fetterman survived and then recovered from a stroke that he says almost killed him. He continued, Dr. Beating Mehmet Oz, the heart surgeon-turned-TV star who spent $27 million of his own money after moving from New Jersey to run.
Fetterman still suffers from an auditory processing disorder — the common result of stroke — that could force him to use closed captioning at hearings, meetings, and debates. It could also potentially limit his ability to engage in the common practice of giving interviews to reporters in Senate corridors.
Fetterman’s fashion savvy — he wears hoodies and shorts even in the winter — surfaced on the campaign trail when Republicans plastered him as someone who dresses like a teenager living in his parents’ basement. At an Oz campaign rally, Senator John Kennedy, R-La., jokingly told the crowd that at least Oz “wears pants.”
In the Senate, Fetterman will join the clubbiggest of clubs, 100 of the nation’s ultimate insiders: millionaires, scions, and makers of kings—or queens. His supporters see him very differently in the Senate: as an outsider.
Fetterman became something of a progressive hero without the help of the party, and attracted a following as mayor of a satellite community in Pittsburgh. In that role, he performed same-sex marriages before they were legal and was arrested at a demonstration after Pittsburgh’s regional healthcare giant shut down a hospital in Braddock, his poverty-stricken city.
“He’s for us – not for the big movie stars or the big people who have all the money. It’s for the little boys from Pennsylvania,” said one supporter, Lydia Thomas.
In a possible preview of his Senate term, Fetterman’s campaign has struck a balance between insidership and outsiderism.
He has forged ties with Casey and Gov. Tom Wolf, and received high-profile campaign aid from Biden and former President Barack Obama. But as lieutenant governor, he built a reputation for not chatting with state legislators and not kissing the rings of party insiders as a candidate.
When it came time for the state Democratic Party to support itself in the four-way Senate primary, Fetterman dismissed it as transactional; his campaign dismissed it as an “inside game”.
During the campaign, Fetterman regularly used Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia as a foil, implying that Manchin shouldn’t vote like a Democrat and won’t get rid of the filibuster.
At a jam-packed county Democratic Party breakfast, he asked voters if “Joe Manchin Democrats” were in the room. Nobody spoke. Then Fetterman told them that a Democrat who doesn’t support eliminating the filibuster “has to believe there are 10 or 12 Republican senators of conscience.” Manchin’s office declined to comment.
It’s not clear that Fetterman sees himself as an outsider, or that he intended to run in that direction. He has dismissed questions about his style or how he would fit into the Senate, saying that given the stakes should be the least of your concerns.
“Here’s what I promise never to do: I promise never to start a riot on Capitol Hill. I promise never to stand up in front of the Senate after being chased away by a bunch of rioters and I’ll lie about our election in Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said in an interview last year.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Fetterman was in high demand on TV networks and carried Biden’s shield. As a senator, he should be in great demand again on Sunday talk shows. And his social media feeds will be worth watching: his campaign has relentlessly trolled Oz, and he sometimes spits out foul language when describing things he doesn’t like.
Then there’s his wardrobe. Fetterman has said he will be wearing a suit in the Senate chambers, and indeed, when he showed up for orientation earlier this month, he was wearing one. Dressing up is not entirely alien to him; He has worn a suit while presiding over the state Senate as Lieutenant Governor.
Senate assistants are unsure if the Senate dress code is written down anywhere. And while men are expected to wear suit jackets and ties, Casey suggests the dress code isn’t always followed.
“Lately I’ve seen a few Republican members whose names I won’t reveal — but if you look closely at the video you can see they’ve turned up with no ties or sometimes no jackets,” Casey said.
Fetterman hasn’t always shown respect for job expectations or demands that he might not like. For example, during his 13-year tenure as mayor of Braddock, he skipped around a third of council meetings, records show.
He has skipped dozens of voting sessions in the state Senate during his four years as lieutenant governor, including eight out of nine days this fall while he was campaigning. When he presided, Republican senators complained that he showed a lack of interest in learning the rules of order.
Twice Republican senators used extravagant procedural maneuvers to remove him as chairman in the middle of a voting session, claiming he had willfully flouted the rules of procedure to help other Democrats in partisan showdowns.
Not only that, but he also caused a stir by hanging flags — such as the pro-marijuana legalization and LGBTQ and transgender rights flags — on the door of the lieutenant governor’s office and its outdoor second-story balcony, which overlooks the expansive front steps of the State Capitol overlooks .
Republicans, complaining that he was converting his Capitol office into a dormitory room, pushed a provision into the lame budget legislation to stop it – leading Fetterman to deride it as the establishment of the “Gay Pride Police.”
The US Senate will have its own partiality and its own transactions between members. Casey says Fetterman is prepared because he was mayor and lieutenant governor. Perhaps the biggest change for Fetterman, Casey said, is the demand for his time, which will keep him in Washington and away from his wife and three school-age children.
“Your life is going to be in Washington right now — because of the voting and hearing schedule — and that’s different,” Casey said. “Most people don’t have that kind of schedule where … sometimes you’re more in Washington than the state you represent.”