Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sits at his desk, rarely distracting himself from the case against Donald Trump by impeachment directors in the House of Representatives this week.
This was certainly not the case with Senator Lindsay Graham (R. South Carolina), who once tapped a pencil on his desk, and at another moment fidgeted his fingers. On Thursday, he left the room and headed to the mantle room for some time.
During the trial, the Senate cameras were installed on the raised podium and who is speaking at that moment; However, the dozen or so reporters in the room focus on the actions and reactions of the senators themselves.
Gathered in the third-floor gallery just above the podium, members of the media covering the trial personally have a view that the cameras haven’t caught on. Journalists are sitting in the press corridor on the other end of the room from the cameras, so they don’t even have opinions on who is talking, but that’s not what a lot of reporters are here for. They sit like hawks gazing at the Senate floor, observing their body language.
The Democrats end the arguments against Donald Trump in the impeachment trial: “If we pretend this hasn’t happened … who will say it won’t happen again?”
On Thursday afternoon, as the impeachment directors’ presentations began to get a bit frequent, Manu Raju, chief correspondent for CNN to Congress, wrote on Twitter, “I just walked into the room and in my time saw 15 empty Republican Party seats. (I didn’t see Lindsay Graham, Rand Paul. … also saw Jim Rich in the basement of his phone.) Thom Tillis was visible in the GOP toilet reading his phone. Bernie Sanders was collapsing.
“Sanders was not turning his head and watching the videos because the other senators were turning their heads and watching clearly. It was impossible to confirm whether Sanders was leaving. The senators were clearly tired on the third day of the trial.”
The situation is unusual for senators: as jurors, they must all be present. As they are reminded at the beginning of each day, they are not allowed to speak “under penalty of imprisonment.” This makes any kind of movement between members stand out.
On Wednesday and Thursday, three Republican senators – Rob Portman from Ohio, Ben Sacy from Nebraska and Bill Cassidy from Louisiana – were spotted taking notes on the statutory notebooks. At one point, Cassidy whispered something to his next-door member, Ted Cruz, and as CNN’s Ali Zaslav points out, it looks like he needs Cruz’s pencil to keep writing.
In a few rows below, Chuck Grassley from Iowa read through a thick throat casing, and was only looking occasionally. Josh Hawley of Missouri has not been on Earth for most of the past two days: He sat alone in a visitor’s gallery, nearly empty due to Covid-19 restrictions. On CNN, Chris Como criticized Cruz for a tweet posted on his account during the trial: “Orwell: The words” breast milk “are now banned. Because science.”
Ants moments were not limited to Republicans. At one point, Ron Wyden of Oregon pulled the chair next to him back and forth. Other Democratic members stood and expanded. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer turned in his seat. He was still awake, but he fell slightly, with his face resting on his right hand.
The trial is a kind of marathon for members, who are used to relatively short periods of time in the room to cast ballots or give speeches (often with a few others in attendance). However, the impeachment directors’ heavy reliance on video and audio clips helped capture the full attention of members, especially on Wednesday, when most of the senators were focusing on intense video footage of rioters raging in the halls of the Capitol.
On Fox Business, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said the clips were “disturbing, criminal, riot, it was violent, we saw the police overwhelmed.” But Barrasso, like many other Republicans, is still critical of the Democrats for impeaching the now ex-president.
What does all this say about the result? Several members appeared to be constrained in voting on the constitutionality of the trial itself. The 56-44 vote earlier this week on that question was an indication that the impeachment managers are well short of the 2/3 needed to convict Trump. However, it is not over yet: conviction remains elusive, but the verdict of acquittal is not certain.