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Hoodie hypocrisy? Some in House say dress code selectively enforced

By Dana Bash, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent
updated 5:48 PM EDT, Fri March 30, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rep. Bobby Rush's wore hoodie on the House floor
  • Wore hoodie while making speech highlighting Trayvon Martin
  • Speech cut short by admonition for breaching House dress code

Washington (CNN) -- Rep. Bobby Rush's hoodie on the House floor sure got attention.

"Racial profiling has to stop," he announced as he took off his suit jacket to reveal a hoodie, which he immediately pulled over his head. His speech was cut short by the loud clicking of a gavel, and an admonition to leave the chamber for breaching rules of decorum.

The move was intended to highlight the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida, but it also raised questions about attire in the House.

House officials said Rush broke a rule that says members "may not wear a hat." Another rule says representatives have to "wear appropriate business attire in the chamber."

In the wake of Rush's removal from the House, some members are complaining that rules are unevenly enforced.

It is not unusual to see lawmakers entering the House chamber in jeans, sneakers and other clothing that is supposed to be banned.

Late last year Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, wore a memorable outfit that certainly did not qualify as appropriate business attire. In the politest of terms, it was a form fitting blue T-shirt underneath his blazer.

Cleaver: House rules must be enforced

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver told CNN he supports the House rules aimed at proper decorum, but he also said -- in the wake of the Rush incident -- they must now be enforced across the board.

"It's not uncommon to see people in the back (of the House chamber) with sweatshirts on, and we have traditionally allowed that to happen. I don't think that can happen anymore," said Cleaver.

In fact, standing at the bottom of the Capitol steps on Thursday as the House was holding its final pre-recess votes, Cleaver said he had just seen people "with all kinds of things on."

"When you selectively enforce the rules it can cause people to believe you're enforcing them on the basis on political view or basis of partisan politics," Cleaver said.

Translation: House officials must start cracking down on the dress code, so no one can say Rush was singled out because of politics, party or race.

House Speaker John Boehner is famously fixated on appearances, stopping people in hallways and calling them out at press conferences about a bad outfit or messy hair.

For example, earlier this month he told a reporter to button his shirt.

"You don't have to look like a reporter," Boehner quipped.

One of Boehner's most famous tongue-in-cheek moments was in 2009, when he spent much of a press conference commenting on the way people looked.

"You really do need to do something with that hair of yours," he said to one reporter.

"Get a brush, will ya?" he said to another.

A natty dresser himself, Boehner is such a stickler that minutes after an emotional farewell to Gabby Giffords in January, he banged the gavel and bellowed, "the chair would remind all members to be in proper business attire when you come to the floor of the House."

We asked Boehner about Cleaver's concern that the rules are not uniformly enforced.

"I think the rules are enforced evenly," Boehner replied.

"I've asked members of both sides of the aisle to leave the floor myself. I know the sergeant of arms has asked members to leave the floor. We expect all members to follow the rules and the rules make it clear that members will be on the floor with proper business attire," he said.

The day that Rush wore his hoodie on the House floor, several other members also brought their own sweatshirts, but didn't end up wearing them after Rush was escorted out for breaking the rules.

Cleaver told CNN several members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others had asked him to put one on, but he declined, out of respect for House decorum.

He said Boehner needs to tell House officials to work harder.

"What needs to happen is the speaker is going to have to tell every sergeant at arms that no matter what, people must confirm to the rules," Cleaver said.

CNN Congressional Producer Rebecca Stewart contributed to this report.

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