By some measures, partisanship in Congress has never been higher. But in the middle of a tense debt ceiling standoff, one lawmaker has a novel idea for reaching across the aisle: sneakers.
Representative Jared Moskowitz, Democrat of Florida, is the co-chair of the Congressional Sneaker Caucus. The 42-year-old congressman considers himself the biggest sneakerhead on Capitol Hill. “No one is challenging me at the moment for that title,” said Moskowitz, a lifelong collector who donned a pair of DJ Khaled Air Jordan V’s for the State of the Union address in February.
In April, after clocking a widespread preference for comfortable footwear in the halls of the Capitol, he launched the coalition with fellow rubber sole enthusiast Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, Republican of Oregon. The CSC, Moskowitz said, is “a bipartisan way to get people in the room to talk about something else other than politics, so that we can learn something about each other.”
Though it sounds like a plot point out of Veep rather than then The West Wing, the Congressional Sneaker Caucus has already had to enter one thorny debate: Is it appropriate to wear sneakers in the Oval Office? Last week, when congressional leaders gathered at the White House to negotiate the debt ceiling, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries all arrived wearing different versions of formal-ish sneakers, prompting a minor social media uproar reminiscent of the one kicked off a few months ago when the cast of Ted Lasso sat down with President Biden while wearing, among other shoes, Nike Dunks and Maison Margiela “Replica” German army trainers.
On Wednesday, the kicks conference responded forcefully. “The Congressional Sneaker Caucus unequivocally supports Speaker McCarthy’s and Leader Jeffries’ freedom to wear dress sneakers in the Oval Office. While debt ceiling negotiations have been contentious, we appreciate that both parties are putting their best foot forward and demonstrating that sneakers and statesmanship are compatible,” Moskowitz and Chavez-DeRemer said in a press release.
Reached by phone on Thursday morning, Moskowitz clarified that he favors traditional sneakers over dress shoes with rubber soles, saying “I want to see [politicians] in Jordans, I want to see them in Dunks.” But he’s willing to compromise: “I’ll take the middle road right now.” Still, the Sneaker Caucus has a ways to go to bridge the Beltway’s partisan divide. When we spoke, Moskowitz was on his way back to Florida—the House had adjourned for the long weekend, with no clear resolution to the debt ceiling fight. Still, Moskowitz sounded upbeat. “I think we should be fashionable while we’re raising the debt ceiling,” he said.
GQ: Congressman, how many pairs of sneakers do you own at this point?
Rep. Moskowitz: I have like 150 pairs.
I hear you have a preference for Jordans. What’s in your collection?
Yeah, I have a preference for Jordan’s. Some of them are 20 years old, some of them are newer. The range is all over the place. But I’m a big fan of Jordan IIIs and IVs. I’ve gotten some XIIs recently, which I really like, and I also have a bunch of Nike Dunks. But all of my Nike Dunks are old.
So you’re not new to this—it sounds like sneakers have been a lifelong passion.
I remember as a kid growing up before the internet, before eBay, before StockX, that Nike came out with a new Jordan shoe once a year, maybe it had two colors. This is in the late ’80s, early ’90s. And you’d go to the mall, and the mall would open and you’d run to Footlocker. And there would be a huge line that wrapped all the way around the mall. And you knew if you were in that line, you had a chance of getting a new pair of Jordans.
And as a kid, that’s what you wanted. You wanted to be the first kid that walked into class wearing that new pair of Jordans. And it was something that I did with my dad. And my dad passed away about 18 months ago from pancreatic cancer. Running for Congress was something that we had always talked about. He died a month before the seat became open and I announced that I was running. So this is a way that I incorporated him up here.
But it started when I first had lunch with [House Minority Leader] Hakeem [Jeffries]. I’m all dressed up and I have on nice black oxford shoes because I’m going to meet with the future Congressional leader. And he’s there in sneakers. And I’m like, Well, Hakeem, I wish I would’ve known I could wear sneakers. And he said, Hey, fun fact, the House dress attire that’s required for congressmen and women doesn’t apply to shoes. And that’s where the idea came that I would start wearing my Jordans. At first people were like, what are you doing? Why aren’t you wearing proper shoes? And after a while, everyone became more interested in, Hey, what’s the shoe today? What’s the shoe tomorrow?
I realized that not only was it a way for me to have something that my dad and I did together up here, but also that so many things are divisive [in Washington]. There are so many things that are forcing us not to talk to each other. Some of it is systematic, built in. Other parts of it are social media and the media. There’s just so much money in creating divisiveness amongst folks up here in Congress. But this actually became a conversation. Democrats, staff, visitors, capitol, police, reporters—it was a way to break down barriers. And the funny part is, there are a lot of people that wear sneakers up here.
It sounds like you’re the biggest sneakerhead on Capitol Hill.
No one is challenging me at the moment for that title. But there’s a huge amount of people who wear sneakers because walking around the Capitol—[the floors are] all made of marble, so a lot of the congresswomen on both sides wear sneakers. And so the idea came: hey, let’s start a sneaker caucus. Again, a bipartisan way to get people in the room to talk about something else other than politics so that we can learn something about each other.
How many members do you have at this point?
So, me and Congresswoman Chavez-DeRemer launched the caucus, and we’re currently recruiting members. We have a couple dozen. But I think that soon we’re going to have a lot more, because we decided it wasn’t just a caucus for members. It’s also a caucus for staff, a caucus for families who bring their kids here. The kids all wear sneakers. So it’s also a bridge between generations, which is also really cool.
And then obviously because McCarthy and Hakeem decided to wear dress sneakers to the White House, that kind of put this whole discussion out there, whether or not sneakers are proper dress attire. And I happen to believe the answer is that they are—it just depends on the sneaker. I got a pair of Jordan Elevens that are from Space Jam, that are the black patent leather Jordans. I wear those with a tux, to black tie affairs.
I want to ask you about those dress sneakers. Because I saw that the sneaker caucus released a statement in support of McCarthy and Jeffries wearing them to the Oval. But what’s your position on the actual aesthetic qualities of dress sneakers? You’re a Jordan guy—you have to admit that dress sneakers are not cool, right?
Listen, I want them to come my way. I want to see them in Jordans, I want to see them in Dunks. But listen, I’ll take the middle road right now, with dress sneakers. It’s a more formal look, but it’s way more comfortable. We just do too much moving and walking around up here to be in oxford shoes all day. And I mean, even the people who see me wearing Jordans, who are wearing oxford shoes, loafers, come up to me and they’re like, man, I wish I could wear sneakers. My feet are killing [me]. And I’m like, well, you can.
I saw that you wore DJ Khaled Jordans to the State of the Union.
I couldn’t get him to be my guest. So I brought him in spirit.
What sneakers would you wear to the Oval Office?
I would wear the Jordan IV Retros. They’re called the 11Lab4 Black. It’s a completely patented leather, black Jordan IV.
One last thing: There’s a debate over whether the Adidas Samba, the undisputed sneaker of the moment, is cooked, or still cool. Where do you come down on that?
I have an old pair of Adidas Sambas, because back when Umbro shorts were still a thing, everyone wore Sambas. So I don’t wear them now. But I think Sambas would look cool with a suit. Not in Congress. Going out to dinner in a more casual setting. But I don’t know that Sambas could fit on the House floor. I don’t know if the Samba is ready for the Hill.