View From The Gallery: Senators Seek Comfort and Novelty During Trump Trial

January 23, 2020by Todd Ruger, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks with journalists during a break in the opening arguments in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton was among the first senators spotted ordering milk to the Senate chamber for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Wednesday, and he took small sips to wash down what looked like a Hershey’s chocolate bar.

This was the second day of the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, and the 100 senators began to search in earnest for comfort and novelty during eight hours of opening statements from House managers.

Senators have complained about being deprived of coffee, tea and other beverage pleasures during the trial. The only two drinks allowed in the chamber are water and milk.

The milk allowance is enshrined in “Riddick’s Senate Procedure: Precedents and Practices,” where it specifies that “Senate rules do not prohibit a Senator from sipping milk during his speech.”

Cotton’s desk is directly in front of Pennsylvania Republican Patrick J. Toomey, who runs the Senate’s candy desk and is known to stock it with products from his home-state chocolatier.

North Carolina Republican Richard M. Burr eventually joined Cotton, ordering some milk for himself.

Iowa Republican Joni Ernst draped her legs in what appears to be a blue fleece blanket to keep warm during the proceedings.

Democratic women are feeling the chill too. After conferring with Washington’s Maria Cantwell, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen asked a Senate page to bring her some hot water. Shaheen and Cantwell didn’t seem sure if that was an option or what to expect.

The page dutifully returned with a water glass identical to all others in the chamber. But when Shaheen wrapped her hands around it, she smiled and showed Cantwell. After letting it cool for a few minutes, she took a sip and then cradled the boring, but warm, beverage in her lap.

As an afternoon break drew to a close, senators seemed to be in no particular hurry to resume the presentation of the House managers. After conferring briefly with White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a live microphone and announced, “OK, OK, colleagues. Let’s go back to our chairs. We’re about to resume.”

At another point, Colorado freshman and impeachment manager Jason Crow took to the floor and suggested to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. that with the time left in the Democrats’ argument, maybe a break would be in order after his turn at the mics.

Crow looked back at Roberts, and then to McConnell, who raised his eyebrows and shrugged. McConnell, usually in complete control of the Senate’s schedule, doesn’t have the same power during impeachment.

Senators are supposed to stay at their desks, but at least 23 decamped to their respective cloakrooms during the second hour of House Manager Adam B. Schiff’s opening statement, choosing a phone-friendly respite instead of listening to the same argument the House Intelligence Committee chairman has been making for months.

Other senators, including Republicans Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Mike Braun of Indiana and Rick Scott of Florida, stood between the back row of desks and the wall, perhaps to stretch their legs or maybe as a way to stay awake. Some of their colleagues, like Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, struggled to keep their eyes open during portions of Schiff’s speech.

Wednesday’s session began around 1 p.m. EST and followed a marathon Tuesday session that began at 12:30 p.m. and finished just before 2 a.m.

At the beginning, Scott removed his glasses, leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands before releasing a yawn.

He wasn’t alone.

After a night that stretched long past Sen. Charles E. Grassley’s well-known 9 p.m. bedtime, yawns were epidemic in the early hours of Wednesday afternoon’s arguments.

Tucked safely in the back row, Virginia Democrat Mark Warner caught himself a nap. He seemed to be asleep within 40 minutes of the arguments starting, a hand covering his eyes and his chin resting on his chest.

Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey looked over at his desk neighbor but didn’t rouse him. Warner awoke himself and readjusted, resting his chin in his palm and looking at Schiff’s presentation. But soon his eyes drooped closed once again.

The Vermont delegation needs some kind of green mountain remedy.

Both Sens. Patrick J. Leahy and Bernie Sanders muffled coughs in the chamber, and Sanders pulled a wad of tissues from his pocket to mop his nose.

At one point, a Senate page delivered a plain white envelope to Leahy that seemed to contain cough drops. He put some in his desk and some in his suit jacket pocket and popped one in his mouth.

As the proceedings were getting underway, Oklahoma Republican James M. Inhofe caught the attention of a doorkeeper and handed him his cellphone, banned during the proceedings. The doorkeeper put Inhofe’s phone in the cloakroom.

Shortly before 5 p.m., there were many senators out of their seats. Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy could be seen in the Republican cloakroom using a tablet or laptop through the windowed doors into the chamber.

When Crow referenced Oleksandr Markiv, a Ukrainian military man who died defending his country from Russian separatists, some senators did a double take. In Crow’s mouth, Markiv sounded exactly like Markey.

Delaware Democrat Thomas R. Carper whipped around in his seat to look at Markey, who widened his eyes and shrugged.

In early evening, there was a brief reunion for some Democrats who have been seeing plenty of each other in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Sanders, along with Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, ducked into the Democratic cloakroom together. Booker and Klobuchar stuck together when they exited; Klobuchar took her seat, and Booker leaned his large frame on the back of her chair.

No one, it seemed, could sit still for the duration of Wednesday’s session.

Montana Republican Steve Daines stood behind his GOP colleagues and leaned his body to the left and then the right, perhaps trying to subtly stretch without drawing attention. Dozens of senators chose to stand behind their desks or lightly pace the back of the chamber while House impeachment managers forged ahead with their arguments.

In a 30-minute stretch from 8:45 p.m., no fewer than 25 senators stood either behind their desks or in the back of the chamber.

Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz reached back and grabbed his foot, bringing it up toward his glutes for a nice quad stretch. Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy leaned forward against his desk at one point with his legs diagonally behind him in what appeared to be a calf stretch.

Just after 6 p.m., as House impeachment manager Hakeem Jeffries spoke, Capitol Police officers removed a man from the public gallery known to many at the Capitol for protesting against abortion. The protester yelled, “Jesus Christ!” and “Schumer is the devil!”

Roberts responded: “The sergeant-at-arms will restore order in the gallery.”

On the third floor outside the chamber, the protester continued shouting while being taken into custody, mentioning abortion and “dismiss the charges.”

Actress and activist Alyssa Milano was back in the public gallery for a second day, this time in the front row behind Democratic lawmakers. House Republican firebrand Louie Gohmert of Texas was also back, taking copious notes in the back of the chamber.

The session opened with Senate Chaplain Barry Black’s prayer, which asked for wisdom for Roberts and gave senators acting as jurors a reminder.

“Help them remember that patriots reside on both sides of the aisle, that words have consequences and that how something is said can be as important as what is said,” Black prayed.

Much earlier in the day, around 1 a.m., Roberts formally admonished the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team for their language and personal characterizations. No such warnings were issued from the bench Wednesday.


Niels Lesniewski and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.


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