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As House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), a member of the impeachment managers team, read the the House’s articles of impeachment, senators sat stern-faced and quiet, without the benefit of their phones to distract them.
Thus will be the rules for the Senate impeachment proceedings, which will kick off in earnest on Tuesday. Later Thursday, senators will take their formal oaths, after Chief Justice Roberts is sworn in as the presiding officer.
Here’s what else I noticed from sitting within the chamber.
A majority of the senators had uniform legal pads in front of them, but few had pens in their hands ready to take notes. A handful more senators had brought in their own notebooks — moleskin or otherwise — and just a few had additional printouts with them.
According to the guidelines of decorum issued by Senate leaders earlier this week, senators may only have with them reading materials that “pertain to the matter before the Senate.”
Among those actually taking notes during Thursday’s presentation of the articles were Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Senators are also forbidden from bringing cell phones and other electronic devices into the chamber, but there’s skepticism in the Capitol that that restriction will last the entirety of the trial, which is expected to last at least two weeks if not longer. The decorum rules also limit the Senate staff allowed in the chamber in the Senate proceedings.
“Senators will only have the opportunity for limited speech at the trial,” the decorum guidelines said. “Members should refrain from speaking to neighboring Senators while the case is being presented.”
This is quite different than how the Senate usually operates. Rarely do you see all 100 senators sitting quietly in their seats. Usually, during votes, they’re milling about, and in and out of the chamber. They’re chatting and huddling, and even showing off photos or tweets on their cell phones. The kremlinology of who is talking to whom on the floor is an occasional speculation game reporters play — particularly during high-profile votes where a senator’s floor behavior could signal a pivotal vote he or she is about to cast.
But reporters won’t have the benefit of such gestural tea-leaf reading during the impeachment proceedings. Instead, journalists will be looking for more subtle clues of how senators are reacting to the arguments on the floor — dare a senator let her face betray what she’s thinking.
Even the questions senators have about the arguments must be submitted in writing.
Once the proceedings reach their deliberations phase, the chamber will be closed off. That means once the Senate returns to its more active way of operating during the impeachment proceedings, reporters and the public won’t even be able to watch it.