Three days of sitting quietly and listening is a tall order for anyone – even for the senators attending Donald Trump’s impeachment trial this week.
Reports from inside the chamber indicate that barred from using their electronic devices many members of what, we keep being reminded, is “the world’s greatest deliberative body” at times struggled to keep their eyes open or stop fidgeting. Senator James Risch, an Idaho Republican, drifted off to dreamland during Tuesday’s nearly 13-hour session, captured in a moving illustration by a New York Times sketch artist. The Associated Press spotted an unnamed Democrat who “leaned on his right arm, covered his eyes and stayed that way for nearly a half-hour” the next day. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, typically tireless in the pursuit of injustice, allowed his eyelids to droop. A career spent stoking the flames of partisanship at the expense of all that is good and true really takes it out of you.
Even the perpetually energetic Bernie Sanders was seen to yawn and lean backward. According to the New Yorker, he has spent much of the week “staring blankly into space”. (Eventually, he apparently summoned the fortitude to take notes.)
Senators who avoided the beckoning of sweet slumber maintained lucidity in a variety of ways. Some were productive: Elizabeth Warren, not known for slacking, and Susan Collins, whose sporadically rational behavior could force her party to allow witnesses at the trial, have reportedly taken thorough notes. Amy Klobuchar chatted with those nearby – which could, according to Senate decorum rules, land her in prison. (As of publication, she remains free.) She is among several senators known to chew gum on the floor, which might not lead to jail time but would certainly get her kicked out of many high school classrooms.
In many ways, however, the experience is just like school: the good students remain seated and attentive; the bad ones pass notes and giggle; the worst steadfastly defend corrupt presidential administrations. Snacks are generally not allowed, but if you bring enough for the whole class, the teacher – Chief Justice John Roberts – will tolerate it. That’s the case with the Republican Pat Toomey, who is in charge of the Senate candy drawer. Toomey has been in charge of the drawer since 2015, and he stocks it with stuff from his home state of Pennsylvania, which is fortunately also home to Hershey’s. And in an era of bitter division, he magnanimously provides sweets to Democrats. “The candy desk is bipartisan,” a spokesman told the New York Times.
Senator Richard Burr handed out fidget spinners to fellow Republicans. But the Senate squirming epidemic was not limited to those on the right. Many senators have been getting up – CNN counted 20 empty seats at 10.30pm on Tuesday – with the rascal Lindsey Graham reportedly spending more time out of his chair than in it, despite leaders’ request that lawmakers “remain in their seats at all times they are on the Senate floor”. Mark Warner, a Democrat, was apparently excited to see Alyssa Milano, who had arrived to watch the proceedings; he pointed the Who’s the Boss actor out to his colleague Michael Bennet. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, was reportedly seen drawing a picture of the Capitol, doing a crossword puzzle, and possibly even working on a paper airplane. He kept it covered with a piece of paper but he had to move that in order to write in his answers. “All smart people do crossword puzzles,” a spokesman told ABC News, though one might argue that most of those people are not simultaneously deciding the fate of a president.
Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, admitted to being “bored”: “I don’t know what else they can keep talking about,” he told the New York Times. “I mean, we heard their case in the first 13 hours.” Perhaps things would be less boring if his fellow Republicans hadn’t spent Tuesday valiantly voting against effort after effort to bring in new evidence.
Sadly, it seems the world’s greatest deliberative body would prefer to do a little less deliberating. An ABC reporter summed up the senators’ departure that night: “I’ve never seen a madder dash from senators to get out of this place.”