/Sleeping senators, snacks, shaking heads: What you cant see on TV at Trumps impeachment trial

Sleeping senators, snacks, shaking heads: What you cant see on TV at Trumps impeachment trial

WASHINGTON – If you’ve turned on your television and caught any of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, you’ve likely gotten a chance to see arguments from House managers and the president’s defense team

The official camera in the Senate has stayed locked on those speaking, leaving everything else happening in the chamber – and outside of it – unseen by TV viewers. 

Throughout the trial, senators have dozed off, passed notes, munched on snacks and sometimes laughed or shaken their heads in disapproval. Here’s some of what else you couldn’t see if you’ve watched the trial on TV.  

Trading notes, whispers  

A wide smile spread across South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s face last Tuesday as he read the note passed to him by his desk mate, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. The two shared a quiet giggle as they passed messages back and forth, something that has become common at the all-day trial proceedings.  

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At the start of each day of the trial, senators are told they must remain quiet on “pain of imprisonment.” That hasn’t stopped many of them from communicating with one another over the hours sitting at their desks listening to presentations from House managers and the president’s lawyers.

Like Scott and Sasse, who enjoy the luxury of being far from the dais where Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presides over the trial, other senators have passed notes and whispered back-and-forth. 

Monday evening, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., passed notes as Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump’s counsel, laid out his interpretation of what the founding fathers identified as an impeachable offense. Klobuchar leaned over to Casey’s desk and the two smiled before looking back up at Dershowitz, who was still presenting. 

The House managers also wrote notes and used legal pads to cover their mouths as they whispered to one another. Trump’s legal team did the same.

Crosswords, fidget spinners

Many of the 100 senators found it hard to sit in one place and refrain from talking or using electronics.

They fidgeted with their eyeglasses or rings. They even had fidget spinners, yes, those. Senators, including, Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., were spotted with the spinners during the trial. 

As House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler started presenting and played video from the House impeachment inquiry about the constitutional basis for impeachment, Burr picked up his blue fidget spinner and started twirling it. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who sits next to Burr, looked over and smiled.

Most senators took notes or read through documents handed out by pages but Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., found other materials to keep himself occupied. 

On Wednesday evening, Paul was filling out a crossword puzzle, surreptitiously putting it under a piece of paper on his desk. The next day, Paul sketched a doodle of the Capitol building, drawing it in his lap before putting it under a box of tissues on his desk.

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Snoozing senators

Last week, as Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., outlined the evidence leading House Democrats to charge the president with two articles of impeachment, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, slouched further back in his chair.

He cradled his head in hand as Demings argued that the chamber should subpoena the State Department for documents regarding Ukraine. A little more than four hours into the presentations, Risch shut his eyes and was the first spotted by USA TODAY to fall asleep. 

As the trial moved forward, he was joined by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt. and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. 

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to his office before the Senate impeachment trial against President Donald Trump on January 25, 2020 in Washington, DC. Republican lawyers began their defense of President Trump during the trial on Saturday morning.

Many senators were spotted yawning or roaming around the Senate floor to stretch. 

During last week’s presentations, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., fiddled with his watch, which he’d taken off his wrist. Shortly after hour No. 7 last Tuesday, he looked at the time, then started dragging the dark band across his face, using it to create a mustache. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., got up and walked to the back of the chamber, taking off her black heels and taking a deep sigh. When she went back to her desk, she wrapped herself in a red shawl.

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Snacking, notorious candy desk 

Senate rules allow for senators to drink water and milk on the floor. They aren’t supposed to eat or talk. 

But some members bent, or even broke, the rules. 

Throughout the long days of presentations, many Republicans would discreetly make their way over to desk of Sen. Toomey, R-PA., as it contained the only food in the chamber: a drawer full of candy.

His Republican colleagues could be seen moseying over to his desk and eventually walking away, chewing on something. Toomey was also spotted enjoying a chocolate bar or two as the proceedings went on. 

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The drawer was so popular that more chocolate was needed – a lot more. Outside Toomey’s office on Friday sat a pallet full of hundreds of Hersey chocolate bars – a Pennsylvania staple. 

If they didn’t have a sweet tooth, senators told reporters that in each of their respective cloakrooms was an assortment of snacks. The snacks frequently lured senators from the floor but occasionally someone would take one back to the floor and stealthily take bites, as though it was contraband.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., snacked on a bag of Cheetos in the back row of the chamber one evening last week, quietly crunching as proceedings got back under way after a dinner break. He was joined by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who was enjoying some cookies. 

Pages, thirsty senators 

The Senate floor is organized similar to a classroom. Each senator sits at a desk that has an indentation for pencils, facing toward the front of the room in rows. 

Pages, high school students who serve as helpers on the Senate floor, worked to pass out copies of presentations, handing a pile to one end of the row and telling senators to pass them down. 

The pages also served as senators’ primary way to stay hydrated. In the absence of soda and coffee, senators took advantage of the beverages available, asking pages to fetch them glasses of milk, the only option besides water. 

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Cotton and Burr were spotted with tall glasses of milk on their desks along with the glass of water provided to every senator. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., went through two glasses as she jotted down notes while the managers discussed the timeline for the Trump administration withholding military aid from Ukraine. 

When senators ran out of milk and water, a Senate page could be spotted quickly scurrying over to senators’ desks and coming back with full glasses. The pages could be spotted going back-and-forth to and from the Senate floor. 

Shaking heads and laughing

Body language can say a lot, including senators’ reactions to pivotal moments. 

Schiff stirred Republican criticism on Friday when he brought up a CBS report that a Trump confidante had told senators not to vote against him or “your head would be on a pike.”

That rankled key senators, including Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, both of whom have signaled they are on the fence about whether to join Democrats in calling for witnesses in the trial. 

“That’s not true,” Collins could be heard responding from the Senate floor. She shook her head in disapproval. Cotton laughed, pulled out a fidget spinner, and started twirling it.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, (center) walks through the Ohio Clock Corridor in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 27 in Washington, DC.

Republicans were not alone in using their body language to show their disagreement with points made by the other side.

On Monday, as Patrick Philbin, a deputy counsel to the president, defended the Trump administration’s withholding of documents and witnesses from House investigators on the basis of “absolute immunity,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., appeared to sigh, roll her eyes, and look up at the ceiling. Throughout the day, Democrats appeared frustrated with the president’s defense. 

Many Democrats took issue with Trump’s counsel using about two hours on Monday to lay out a case against the Bidens. 

When Trump attorney Eric Herschmann hypothesized what the reaction would have been like if it were “if Trump’s children were on an oligarch’s payroll?” reaction of disbelief rumbled through the Democratic side of the chamber. Many shook their heads, some raised their hands, others laughed or rolled their eyes. 

A few senators were quick to start whispering to each other, including Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo. 

Later, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., threw his hands up in the air in a giant shrug after Robert Ray, a member of the president’s counsel, criticized a project by the New York Times about the year 1619, marking 400 years since slaves first came to America.

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After Ray said some have called it “inaccurate,” Kaine leaned back in his chair, looking up at the ceiling as he smiled and shook his head. He looked back at Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who sits just behind him, and Kaine again shook his head.

Last Tuesday, when Schiff discussed a purported phone conversation between Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, and Trump in a restaurant in Ukraine, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chuckled to himself, seeming to be perplexed and exasperated with the retelling of the call, which included Sondland saying Ukraine loves Trump’s a**.

Graham was one of the more animated senators, often laughing at the House managers’ arguments and nodding along as Trump’s counsel decried the impeachment as a fraud.

Quiet in Senate chamber

Thursday’s presentation included a moment of gravity as Schiff delivered a closing speech that left the chamber quiet and appeared to leave one member of the public in tears. 

“Whether we can say it publicly, we all know what we’re dealing with here with this president. Donald Trump chose Rudy Giuliani over his own intelligence agencies… that makes him dangerous… why would anyone in their right mind believe Giuliani over Christopher Wray?” Schiff asked the senators, mentioning the president’s attorney and the FBI director. 

In response, McConnell stared straight ahead while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer peeked at his GOP colleagues. Many sat motionless, watching Schiff. 

A member of the public sitting in a balcony overlooking the chamber wiped his eyes with a handkerchief. The rest of the gallery appeared intrigued, leaning into Schiff’s testimony as he became more impassioned.

“Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost,” Schiff concluded to a silent chamber.

As he walked out of the room after the Senate adjourned, many of his Democratic colleagues expressed to him that he had done his job well. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., shouted “Adam!” and gave him a thumbs up.