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No phones. No coffee. No talking. How senators are coping with long days of impeachment arguments

Jennifer Haberkorn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- No cellphones, no reading material, no talking. Not even coffee -- just uncomfortable chairs to sit in, water or milk to drink and the monologues of the House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump's lawyers for eight or more hours per day.

These are the rules imposed on 100 senators as they proceed through what could be 10 or more long days of Senate jury duty. Lawmakers have been instructed by the Senate sergeant at arms to remain quiet "on pain of imprisonment" -- or at the very least, the scourge of political backlash.

While weighing the heavy constitutional matters of whether the president should be removed from office in the third presidential impeachment trial in American history, senators also have to contend with the fragility of the human condition: How much pretrial coffee is too much? How does a senator accustomed to hitting 10,000 steps each day sit still for eight-plus hours straight? How did people combat boredom before cellphones?

Their coping mechanisms have varied.

Many senators, such as Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., are frequently taking notes to stay focused.

Senators such as Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Michael Bennett, D-Colo.; and Pat Toomey, R-Penn., have taken to standing behind their chairs to stretch their backs. "It gets uncomfortable," Toomey said.


Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., handed out fidget spinners to his fellow Republicans at a closed-door lunch before the trial resumed Thursday. He flicked a green plastic spinner on his hand while Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., one of the House impeachment managers, spoke about the conditions under which the Founding Fathers envisioned when impeachment might be necessary.

Like Nadler, many politicians have been trying to channel the Founding Fathers' intentions in recent months -- citing Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, for instance. But Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took it a step further: He brought an old-fashioned quill pen to the Senate floor, a gift to the sketch artists deployed by media companies to provide imagery of the chamber, where camera access is severely limited.

And of course, some senators were lulled to slumber. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, was caught sleeping on Tuesday by a New York Times sketch artist who depicted the snooze. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., similarly examined the back of his eyelids on Wednesday.

Coffee and tea are out of the question. Senators can only drink water, sparkling water or milk while on the Senate floor, according to Senate practice (which for the stodgy old Senate, may as well be written in stone).


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