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View from the gallery: Senators struggle to sit in silence at Trump trial

Todd Ruger, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lindsey Graham looked restless during the first hour of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, when none of the senators had access to their cellphones and the president's lawyers and the House managers traded procedural arguments.

It was an unusual first day of buttoned-down decorum for the exclusive club of 100 senators-turned-jurors, who were made to stay in their floor seats, not eat, not talk and not tweet during only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.

The press-friendly South Carolina Republican closed his eyes for a while. He roused himself and looked around at the ceilings and galleries. He took notes with a pencil on a white legal pad.

Graham yawned repeatedly, or looked around at his colleagues as if he hoped to share a glance. But he found his colleagues immersed in their own note taking or watching the argument of lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif.

So at the first recess, two hours in, Graham burst out his observations in a pair of tweets. "Quite frankly, having Adam Schiff lecture the Senate about fairness and due process is like listening to an arsonist talk about fire prevention," Graham tweeted.

He wasn't the only one. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., retrieved his phone during the break to criticize arguments from White House counsel Pat Cipollone for "personal insults and falsehoods."

 

Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota responded to a suggestion from Trump's lawyers that she is upset because she's at the trial instead of campaigning in Iowa. "No. This is my constitutional duty. And I can do two things at once," Klobuchar tweeted during the break.

Inside the chamber, there were physical differences that evoked the feeling of a momentous event. Extra tables cram the areas where senators usually mingle or cast votes. Chairs for Trump lawyers and a team of Democratic House impeachment managers fill the floor. Temporary televisions display video evidence.

When video clips were played during the Democratic impeachment managers' arguments, the partisan divide in the chamber was personified beyond the traditional seating on each side of the center aisle. As senators took in the video, they turned their heads to the screens closest to them, away from their colleagues across the aisle.

Arguments and logistics are low-tech, even when video clips are allowed. An aide seated with the Democratic House impeachment managers held up a sheet of paper with "10 minutes" and then "5 minutes" while Rep. Zoe Lofgren spoke, warning the California Democrat that her speaking time was winding down.

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