Chaplain Barry Black opened the Senate on Wednesday with a simple request: Let them be civil.
“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 said.
The opening prayer, offered every day the Senate is in session, comes as President Trump’s impeachment trial is testing the physical and mental endurance of senators, who are required to be in the chamber throughout the proceeding.
Under decorum guidelines circulated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), senators are expected to be in their seats at all times, are not supposed to talk to neighboring senators and can’t bring devices such as cellphones or tablets on the floor. Additionally, any reading materials are supposed to be related to impeachment.
It’s a stark contrast to the normal clubby atmosphere of the Senate floor, where senators circulate among their colleagues and float off and on the floor during a vote series.
Senators are already showing signs of restlessness and rule-breaking roughly 48 hours into the trial.
Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) were spotted chatting intermittently from their seats on the Senate floor during the trial.
Reporters have also been keeping a close eye on senators who might be drifting off during the hours on the Senate floor and appeared to spot Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) sleeping on Tuesday, while an NBC News reporter noted that Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Wednesday appeared to briefly fall asleep before being nudged by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who sits next to him on the floor.
Senators in both parties were seen standing near their chairs or in some cases pacing the outer edge of the floor as the impeachment trial dragged on. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) stretched his arms and yawned, while Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, was spotted resting his face in his hands and scrunching his eyes in an attempt to wake up.
“I’m not somebody who is very good at sitting in one place … for extended periods of time, so it takes a little bit more focus and discipline,” Thune said. “You just got to grind through it.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), his Democratic counterpart, noted that “in the last hour or two, I was up and standing, just to move around a little bit and keep my attention focused on what we were doing.”
Senators are being provided a constant supply of snacks to help them try to power through the unusually long session days.
Though Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters that the Senate candy drawer was “running low,” mounds of snacks could be seen in both the Democratic and Republican cloakrooms. Thune noted he had been munching on Nerds and Swedish Fish; Durbin referred to the bounty in the Democratic room as a “Costco dump.”
On the floor, senators are allowed to have only water or milk, though aides noted that if a senator wanted to drink the latter, they had to bring their own.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) caused a frenzy among reporters when he was spotted drinking milk on the Senate floor; an aide said Cruz also has had a glass during the impeachment trial.
“There’s only two drinks allowed on the Senate floor: milk and water. That must come from a Wisconsin senator, right?” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told reporters before noting that he was sticking to water.
In addition to tight restrictions on the Senate floor, dramatic restrictions on press access have also limited a senator’s ability to talk to reporters, who must remain in pens when on the second floor of the Capitol. The dynamic has set up various stakeout points for senators if they want to talk to reporters, creating a bottleneck at times.
Schumer was spotted waiting to speak to reporters twice on Wednesday, once hovering behind Cornyn. Shortly thereafter, he approached a stakeout in the basement, where he waited as Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) finished talking to reporters. Hirono turned around, spotted him and said she was “done,” ushering him to the cameras.
Other senators have used different tactics to try to get their message out. Cruz has launched a daily podcast called “The Verdict” about impeachment. An aide said it was being used as a way to “speak directly to the American people during the trail and provide insights and analysis that you wouldn’t find on the evening news.”
Frustrations spilled over early Wednesday morning — still the opening portion of the trial that had started Tuesday afternoon — when Republican senators broke with the chamber’s decorum guidelines and clapped when White House counsel Pat Cipollone said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) should be “embarrassed” for his rhetoric.
“I might have put my palms together,” said Johnson. “You might have heard a few groans every now and then too.”
The flashpoint underscores the dilemma for senators: Despite their status as both jury and judge President Trump’s impeachment trial, during the day-to-day procedure they are largely relegated to the sidelines.
At one point, Perdue, coming off the floor during one of the breaks, appeared furious with Democrats.
“This is ridiculous. The hypocrisy of House members coming to the United States Senate and lecturing us about fairness is insulting,” he told The Hill when asked how he felt about being stuck on the floor.
The raucous rules fight was likely the peak, in terms of drama, of the trial for the next several days as the Senate turns to three days of opening arguments for House managers followed by three days for Trump’s legal team.
Each side gets up to 24 hours to make its case, but senators have a blunt request: Please don’t.
“God help us if we have to listen to Adam Schiff and the House Democrats prattle on for 24 hours nonstop,” Cruz told reporters.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), referring to the roughly 13-hour floor marathon, added, “By 2 a.m. last night people were not happy.”
Impeachment managers appeared to recognize at various points that they were delivering their arguments to 100 senators who have limited attention spans. Risch at one point was holding up his watch and tapping it as he looked toward the front of the chamber. He declined to say Wednesday if he was trying to signal for House managers to wrap up, saying he’s not giving impeachment interviews.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) joked to senators that he had 57 minutes left to deliver a rebuttal but quipped, “Don’t worry. I won’t use it!”
Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), one of the House impeachment managers, also noted that senators appeared to be getting restless as he was delivering the opening arguments for Democrats.
“I do see the members moving and taking a break,” he said from the floor. “Would you like to take a break at this time? I have probably another 15 minutes.”