Seersucker suits are in the House


As humidity takes hold in Washington, the House will embrace its lighter side on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/Roll Call)

The economy is no longer careening toward the edge of a cliff at the hands of Congress. So with that pressure lifted, members can revisit a lighter time — literally.

In June 2012, the Senate shut down a decade-and-a-half-old tradition of its members donning, on the same day, seersucker suits — those illustrious pale-blue-and-white puckered-cotton numbers that are the summer uniform for certain types of Washingtonians. With so much tension on the Hill, the senators determined it inappropriate to celebrate something so frivolous as fashion.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

There’s still a fair share of conflict to go around — veterans hospitals, the Bergdahl exchange and all things Clinton — but one brave member of Congress has stepped up and declared the two-year moratorium over.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), taking a break from trying to unseat Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), issued a proclamation last month to designate June 11 as National Seersucker Day. To mark the occasion, Cassidy has organized a group photo shoot in the Capitol after the first series of House votes on Wednesday.

The Senate tradition, started in the late 1990s by then-Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), was held on a Thursday, usually the third week in June, in time for Washington’s swamplike summer weather. It became such a huge part of the fabric of the Senate that the official new members guide includes a section called “Seersucker Thursday,” with a history of the event. No word on whether the Senate has agreed to bring it back, but Cassidy’s office said senators are welcome to participate in the House’s day.

Lott, who left the Senate in 2007, was devastated when the body ended Seersucker Day. He told The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: “Some say you don’t want to make it look like the Senate’s being jovial with all these serious things going on. My view is you can’t get serious things done because you don’t have events where you can enjoy each other’s company.”

In 2004, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) bought seersucker suits for all the female senators, breaking the glass ceiling of a male-dominated celebration. In a “Fox News Sunday” interview together in 2007, Lott and Feinstein discussed their shared appreciation of the breathable cotton garb.

“We need to loosen up and lighten up. And those outfits are certainly lighter. Right, Dianne?” Lott said, noting that Feinstein “made sure that the women are involved in this, too.”

“Everything we do is serious. We never have a chance to laugh at each other. And this was a good opportunity,” she said.

Reached Monday, Lott was busy planning next week’s Seersucker Thursday festivities at his law firm, Patton Boggs.

“If I could give my friends in the Senate one piece of advice, it would be to start Seersucker Thursday again,” he said.

So now, on this predictably sticky and humid week in June, seersuckers will make their grand return (scan staffers’ summer attire on Capitol Hill and you’d wonder whether they ever really went away) and besides Lott, no one is more pleased than Haspel, the New Orleans company that created the seersucker suit.

Nice campaign move, Cassidy.

A different job shortage

It’s nail-biting time for mega-bundlers. You raised all that money, at least half a million and maybe millions, for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. You’re thinking you raised a lot more than embattled bundler nominee Noah Mamet, who, if confirmed, would end up in that glorious 44,000-square-foot residence in Buenos Aires.

(We say “if” because there’s some Senate opposition after his infamous February testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee.)

Obama last week narrowed your chances for a top spot, announcing top Democratic fundraiser and Obama bundler Jane Hartley for Paris and giving Ireland — Ireland! — to St. Louis lawyer Kevin O’Malley, who wasn’t even a bundler.

Now there are only 21 / 2 years left in the Obama presidency, and at some point it’s not going to be worth the effort to nominate a non-career candidate to fill these jobs.

As it stands, there are only 15 embassies left without an ambassador or a nominee, and most of them are in garden spots such as Eritrea, Sudan or Syria, according to a status list compiled by the American Foreign Service Association.

India is still listed as open, along with Romania and lovely Costa Rica, so maybe you can snag a spot in some places if penciled-in candidates run into vetting problems. Moscow is open but, even in relatively better times, it has generally gone to a top career person. And these times are hardly good.

‘It just drives them nuts’

During a 1996 State of the Union prep meeting that included President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, senior adviser George Stephanopoulos and other Clinton aides, Clinton offered his team a candid take on why Republicans wanted to eliminate the Commerce Department.

In Clinton’s estimation, it was because they couldn’t handle an African American successfully leading the agency.

“I mean, the reason they want to get rid of the Department of Commerce is, they are foaming at the mouth that Ron Brown is better than all of those Republican corporate executives who got those cheeky jobs because they gave big money to Republican presidential candidates,” he said. “And here is this black guy who is a better secretary of commerce than anybody since Herbert Hoover, which he was a success at.”

“I mean, that’s true, they just can’t stand it,” Clinton continued. “They just go crazy, it just drives them nuts. . . . They’re like a kid that’s mad in a room, you know, a 2-year-old — they will get rid of the Department of Commerce so they’ll never have to remember that Ron Brown, a black Democrat, was better than all their big, corporate muckety-mucks that make American jobs.”

Someone in the room joked, “Are we putting this in the speech?”

“No,” Clinton said, “but I mean, they need a rabies shot.”

The transcript of the conversation between Clinton and his staff was made public Friday by the National Archives as part of the periodic release this year of thousands of previously unseen documents from the Clinton White House.

Brown was the first African American to run the Commerce Department. He was killed in a plane crash in 1996 during a trade mission in the former Yugoslavia. Clinton once wrote, “I could not have become president without Ron Brown.”

— With Colby Itkowitz

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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