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Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle

With the outcome of a Senate vote on President Trump‘s impeachment all but completely certain to end with his acquittal, the dramatic atmosphere surrounding his trial at the Capitol is quickly fizzling. 

After two weeks of a high-octane, at times frantic, energy around the Senate — with reporters hungry for any quotes amid a crackdown on press access — Monday took a more subdued tone. 

The reasons are likely twofold: After dominating the news cycle, attention is shifting this week to the Iowa caucuses, the 2020 race and Trump’s State of the Union address. 

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In addition, after Friday’s Senate vote against hearing new witnesses, much of the drama has been sucked out of the trial.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) predicted that the 2020 fight would “quickly take over the discussions.” 

“There was so much leading up to last week’s witness fight, this almost feels like it’s anticlimactic,” Braun said.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, added that “Democrat and Republicans I believe will be relieved to move on” and that the schedule for the trial this week was “locked down.” 

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), one of the 15 senators in the chamber during former President Clinton’s impeachment trial, noted that Trump’s trial was turning out to be less dramatic than the 1999 proceeding or a blockbuster fight in 2018 over then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

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“I thought that there was a lot more intensity in Kavanaugh than this,” Shelby said. “I think this was a foregone conclusion.” 

Kavanaugh’s trial, roiled by allegations of sexual assault, marked a high point in tensions around the Capitol, including high-profile confrontations between protesters and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and then-Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). 

“I don’t think this has been as stressful for members as Kavanaugh was,” Blunt said, noting that Kavanaugh was decided on a simple majority, while impeachment has the higher bar of two-thirds for conviction. 

The shift in tone was reflected both on and off the floor on Monday.  

Several Republicans — including Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican — skirted through the basement and through a crowd of reporters without a question being asked of them. 

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As Republicans trickled in to their caucus lunch, reporters — stuck behind press pens — largely ignored them without attempting to ask questions. 

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) was asked as she exited what food senators ate. Capito, still appearing to be munching, said it was “good” and kept walking. 

There were some exceptions to the laid-back atmosphere. Both Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) attracted a crowd of reporters as they walked through the basement. 

Murkowski, who voted against calling witnesses, reiterated that she had made a decision on whether to convict Trump; she did not share her decision. 

Jones, meanwhile, indicated he was still undecided but “getting there.” Jones, who is up for reelection in the deeply red state of Alabama, is viewed as one of three potential Democratic swing votes. 

On the floor, Jones was spotted leaning over his desk taking notes during Monday’s closing arguments.  

Meanwhile, Manchin, viewed as a potential swing vote, sat throughout the closing arguments with a notebook open on his desk, glasses off and head resting in hand. He was spotted briefly taking notes during the White House closing argument but otherwise was in listening mode. 

Other Democrats, including Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), sat and listened with their desks empty. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) had a large binder on his desk but didn’t appear to be taking notes. 

Several Republicans, including Shelby, Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and James Lankford (Okla.), similarly sat with their desks empty. Graham left the GOP lunch early and wasn’t spotted at his desk on the floor during the White House’s closing arguments or the Democrats’ rebuttal. 

Monday’s proceeding comes the same day as the Iowa caucuses, grounding the four 2020 hopefuls in Washington for part of the day.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) leaned back in his chair, hands folded as he listened, rarely moving to take notes. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) shared a look with Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) after the White House played a tape of the Delaware senator talking at a White House bill signing. Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) briefly spoke with reporters before speeding out of the Capitol once the trial wrapped for the day. 

After taking the reins last week for the question-and-answer session and the fight over witnesses, senators appeared restless once again. 

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) paced the sidelines of the chamber, while Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) could be overheard jiggling his pen on his ankle. Several senators, including Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), stood for part of the closing arguments. 

As many as a dozen Republican senators were missing during final rebuttal from House Democrats, though that number was reduced to only a handful as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) wrapped. Some could be seen chatting in the cloakroom as House Democrats spoke on the floor.

Democrats are trying to keep pressure on Republican senators ahead of Wednesday’s votes on conviction. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) praised Schiff, calling his closing remarks “just about the best speech I’ve ever heard.” 

“He points to our Republican colleagues and says, ‘You are not him. Don’t follow him down this path.’ I was so moved by his speech, and I hope maybe it pierced the hardness that is put in front of so many of our Republican colleagues,” he said. “Let’s hope and pray. If that didn’t do it, I don’t know what would.” 

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