Senators Quiet, Unplugged for Trial 01/19 08:46
WASHINGTON (AP) -- No cellphones. No talking. No escape.
That's the reality during the Senate's impeachment trial of President Donald
Trump, which will begin each day with a proclamation: "All persons are
commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment." After that, 100 senators
will sit at their desks for hours on end to hear from House prosecutors,
Trump's defense team and possibly a series of witnesses.
The first time the proclamation was used, in the 1868 trial of President
Andrew Johnson, lawmakers couldn't have imagined life in the modern era. The
pace of today's politics would have been hard to foresee even in early 1999, at
the start of the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, when smartphones
And so the senators will have a throwback experience in 2020, disconnected
from the outside world, asked only to listen. The normally chummy senators
won't even be allowed to talk at length to people nearby or walk on certain
areas of the Senate floor. Mostly they will sit, trapped in the chamber,
focused on the issue at hand.
While senators might privately grumble about the restrictions --- and will
likely violate them at times --- they agree that the rules are justified as
they execute their most solemn duty: considering whether to remove the
president of the United States from office.
An impeachment trial "deserves our undivided attention," said Sen. Chris
The ban on cellphones on the Senate floor isn't new, but enforcement has
become more relaxed in recent years. Coons said that when he came to the Senate
a decade ago, he would be reprimanded if he even took his phone out of his
pocket. Today, senators are often spotted texting or looking at their phones
while waiting to speak or vote --- and a ring tone has sounded more than once.
Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa joked that if there weren't restrictions,
senators would be "Googling stuff" and playing games on their phones. Or worse,
live tweeting the trial.
"As much as I hate it, not being connected to a device, I just think we need
to pay attention," Ernst said.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said it's a "healthy situation," and he compared it
to when his wife asks him to leave the phone at home when they go out to
"There will be some withdrawal symptoms," Cardin said. "We might have to
take some tranquilizers."
Cardin spent the first hours of the trial on Thursday taking notes. As
senators were sworn in as jurors and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,
R-Ky., announced the next steps, Cardin jotted notes on the process and what
was happening. He said the note-taking is "one of my work habits" that helps
him keep his emotions in check, understand what's going on and also record
history as it happens.
Other senators were still adjusting. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of
California stole a few moments on her cellphone before an aide motioned to her
that it was time to escort Chief Justice John Roberts into the chamber.
After the swearing-in, as their colleagues stepped forward one by one to
sign an oath book, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running for the
Democratic presidential nomination, clapped his hands quietly as if he was
ready to get moving. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., read through a stack of
papers. Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas peeked under the lid of his desk.
The ban on cellphones and any other materials unrelated to impeachment means
that other Senate business will have to wait. Decorum rules circulated to
Senate offices say that "reading materials should be confined to only those
readings which pertain to the matter before the Senate."
"The rest of the world keeps going on," said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
"That's the challenge that all of us have, is that we're used to tracking
international news and certainly news in our state, all the time, and now
suddenly as things are moving along in our state, or around the world, we'll be
a little slower to be able to get to it."
The challenge is particularly acute for the four senators running for the
Democratic nomination for president who are competing in the Feb. 3 Iowa
caucuses. While their rivals are busy crossing the state and appealing to
voters, the senators in the race will be still in their chairs in Washington.
And there won't be many made-for-TV moments in the trial; in most cases,
senators aren't allowed to speak.
Sanders said Thursday that he's concerned about how it's affecting his
"I would rather be in Iowa today, there's a caucus there in two-and-a half
weeks. I'd rather be in New Hampshire and in Nevada and so forth," Sanders
said. "But I swore a constitutional oath as a United States senator to do my
job and I'm here to do my job."
In addition to Sanders, Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren
of Massachusetts and Michael Bennet of Colorado are running in the Democratic
Senators won't be totally out of touch. If there's something they really
need to know, staff can pass them notes through the Senate cloakrooms.
"It's going to be a new experience for a lot of my colleagues to not be able
to talk and not be able to consult our email or text messages," said Sen. John
Cornyn, R-Texas, who said that as a former judge he's used to sitting through
"But we'll live through it, it'll be all right. This is obviously a very
serious and grave matter, so we should be paying attention."