View From the Gallery: Senators Sit, Spin and Fidget During Trump Trial
WASHINGTON — Sen. Bill Cassidy charted a course along the back corner of the Senate chamber Thursday during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. The Louisiana Republican walked through an area usually reserved for staff seating, hands in pockets, retracing a short path over and over again for more than 15 minutes.
When Georgia Republican David Perdue took to standing along his path, Cassidy squeezed by and just kept pacing.
This was the third long day in the Senate chamber of the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, and the 100 senators began to find more ways to pass time while watching the second day of opening presentation from House managers.
Sixteen desks were empty when Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. announced that the House impeachment managers had 16 hours and 42 minutes left to make their case for Trump’s removal.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the lead impeachment manager, used the first few minutes of the House’s remaining time to attempt to soften his audience with a joke.
“I’m not sure the chief justice is fully aware of just how rare it is, how extraordinary it is, for the House members to be able to command the attention of senators sitting silently for hours, or even for minutes for that matter,” the California Democrat said. “Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the morning starts out every day with the sergeant-at-arms warning you that if you don’t, you will be imprisoned.”
A few Senate Democrats chuckled.
Idaho Republican Jim Risch got a special delivery at his desk during a brief recess.
Colorado’s Cory Gardner slipped out of the GOP Cloakroom and dropped off a small bottle that looked like a 5-Hour Energy drink, essentially a caffeine shot, along with a yellow sticky note to Risch’s desk.
Gardner was likely poking fun at his colleague’s now-infamous snooze earlier this week in the chamber, captured by sketch artist Art Lien and featured in The New York Times and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
North Carolina Republican Richard M. Burr handed out fidget spinners to his GOP colleagues before the day’s session began.
Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton spun his purple toy as Schiff explained how the Trump White House hid call records, and at other times throughout the day.
South Dakota Republican John Thune, the majority whip, used the timeless fidget spinner of old — flipping his pen over between his fingers over and over again. He dropped it at one point on to his legal pad, but immediately resumed.
Burr used his spinner to keep his hands occupied during the second hour of arguments. His desk was completely clear as he spun the gizmo under his desk, gripping it with his left hand and spinning with his right.
Burr eventually stopped, but only when a Senate page delivered a tall glass of milk to his desk. He took a gulp, downing half the milk in one go.
As much as Senate milk was a one-day novelty Wednesday for the senators and those following the impeachment trial on social media, by Thursday the udder cola was just another part of the scene.
More senators indulged in dairy in the afternoon, milk being the only alternative to water available in the chamber.
After a brief recess, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III gulped down a glass. His neighbor Tammy Baldwin had a glass on her desk, but no sips were spotted from the senator from dairy-friendly Wisconsin.
Schiff quickly ceded the podium at the beginning to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York, whose presentation was a dry recap of what some senators probably learned in law school.
Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander rested his head on his hand, eyes closed, as Nadler described what qualifies as a high crime or misdemeanor.
With about 16 hours left on the Democrats’ clock, Nadler announced that he would play a video of Sen. Lindsey Graham from 1999 when the South Carolina Republican was a House impeachment manager arguing to remove President Bill Clinton from office.
Graham wasn’t in the chamber. Wyoming Republican John Barrasso, who sits next to Graham, looked up at the press gallery and smirked. A few other Republican senators looked toward Graham’s empty seat, then toward the TV that played his words from two decades ago.
“What is a high crime? How about if an important person hurts somebody of low means?” Graham said in the clip that bolstered Nadler’s belief that a president does not have to break the law to be impeached and removed. “Doesn’t have to be a crime. It’s when you act in a way that hurts people.”
Graham returned to the chamber about 10 minutes later.
Sen. Roger Wicker pulled a black wrist brace onto his right hand and headed into the Cloakroom. It was unclear if the Mississippi Republican has a fresh injury, or if perhaps he’s taken more handwritten notes in the last few days than he had in years.
Burr could be seen taking calls and meeting with a staffer in the GOP Cloakroom. He leaned back in a high back tufted leather chair. The blurry view into the Cloakroom from the press gallery shows seating much more luxurious than the wooden desk chairs in the chamber.
Shortly after 2 p.m., huge stacks of paper packets were delivered from the Democratic Cloakroom to the Republican one, a few moments after House impeachment manager Sylvia R. Garcia announced that lawmakers could follow along with the slides.
On the Democratic side, Senate pages were dispatched from the Cloakroom with enormous stacks. At least one page was too ambitious and took a huge stack, only to drop them on the floor and have to collect them again.
They handed them out, some using the age-old “take one and pass it” method, others handing the half-inch thick packets out one by one.
When offered a packet, Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz declined, pointing at the screen at the front of the chamber where a slide was on display. The page still tried to give him one, and he again pointed to the screen. The page eventually got the point and moved on.
It’s not clear if Schatz was flaunting his relatively youthful eyesight by relying on the screens or if the single-spaced packet was a step too far for the eco-conscious Democrat.
There was no such scramble to distribute the packets on the GOP side of the chamber after the initial delivery to the Cloakroom.
But after a while, Cassidy wandered back to the Cloakroom and emerged with a stack of the printed slide decks and handed them to his compatriots in the back row. He flipped through the packet to catch up to the slide under consideration.
A few minutes later, Laura Dove, a top aide of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has been seated by his side for much of the trial, headed to the Cloakroom and emerged with another stack of slide decks.
She handed them to Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Susan Collins of Maine, and then used the take-one-and-pass-it system to get them to Republicans Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming.
Much of the Republican side forged ahead, going without the physical printouts of the slides being presented by the impeachment managers.
Schiff, who has made use of technology to make his points, ran into a snag.
“We don’t have that?” he uttered when a video clip of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council failed to play on the televisions brought into the Senate chamber.
Schiff quickly moved on, saying that the numerous clips of Vindman’s testimony that he had played earlier in the day were “enough.” An aide sitting between McConnell and Thune nodded his head in agreement.
Before the dinner break, House manager Hakeem Jeffries tried some more humor, telling the senators that on his way to the office, he ran into a fellow New Yorker who asked him if he had heard the latest outrage.
“I thought to myself, ‘Well, the president is now back in town, what has Donald Trump done now?’ And I asked him, ‘What outrage are you talking about?’” Jeffries recalled. “And he paused for a moment, and then he said to me, ‘Someone voted against (former New York Yankee shortstop) Derek Jeter on his Hall of Fame ballot.’”
The chamber, somber through the three days of impeachment proceedings this week, filled with laughter.
There was quite a contortion for Jeffries to get back to the topic at hand. “I was thinking about that as I prepared to rise today because, what’s more American than baseball and apple pie?” he said. “Perhaps the one thing that falls into that category is the sanctity and continuity of the United States Constitution.”
As the Senate recessed for dinner, Tim Kaine of Virginia and a group of other Democratic senators approached their colleague Kamala Harris, a former attorney general for California, and discussed what they thought about Attorney General William Barr’s knowledge of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskiy. They talked about Barr’s assertions of ignorance about the call.
Collins had other things on her mind during the break. She said loudly to GOP colleagues Murkowski, Thune and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis that the first row of the press gallery should be kept empty and that reporters should only be seated from the second row back, while motioning to the sparse remaining press.
Collins made a motion that looked like she was leaning over, mimicking a reporter leaning over the gallery balcony, a prohibited act that has been strictly enforced during the trial. In addition, the restrictions on press access for this particular Senate trial are unprecedented in modern history.
Collins sometimes speaks so softly that it is hard to hear her even when up close to her, but she made this comment loudly enough that it was heard by CQ Roll Call from one story up, even over the chatter of reporters in the gallery and senators talking on the floor.
And there were some intimate moments as well.
Shortly after 8 p.m., Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown could be seen smiling up at the gallery where spouses and other close visitors have been seated.
His wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Connie Schultz, was in the front row. The two exchanged glances, and she appeared to blow a kiss in his direction.
During the 8:30 p.m. recess, Brown went up to the family gallery on the third floor to talk to Schultz.
Within a few minutes, Tillis walked in and sat a few rows behind. A reporter waved to him from the media gallery and the North Carolina Republican said loudly, “I want to see what it looks like for you guys.”
Brown addressed a different reporter who seemed to know his wife, telling him, “Connie just got here.”
After Brown went back down to the Senate floor, Tillis stayed behind and chatted with Schultz for a few minutes.
Griffin Connolly, Jacob Metz, Niels Lesniewski and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this story.
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