POLITICS

Senators Struggle With 'Digital Detox' During Trump Impeachment Trial

Senators are adjusting to listening to hour after hour of testimony without their link to the outside world.
Still photographers are banned from the Senate chamber during the impeachment trial, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConne
Still photographers are banned from the Senate chamber during the impeachment trial, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released this official photo of the swearing-in.

WASHINGTON ― A few hours after the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began in earnest, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was feeling pretty good. Sure, it’s an adjustment to sit on the floor of the Senate for hour after hour while disconnected from your digital portal to the outside world, probably even more so when you’re in the midst of running a presidential campaign. But Klobuchar said the ban on cell phones in the Senate chamber throughout Trump’s impeachment trial was probably for the best.

“That was not something I was used to,” Klobuchar told HuffPost of the “digital detox” on Tuesday afternoon. “It’ll be good for everyone, they can actually look at each other.”

Yet as the night wore on, Klobuchar ― like a number of senators who sat through hours of floor debate ―  seemed to struggle to disconnect. A HuffPost reporter spotted her pacing inside the Democratic cloakroom off of the floor of the Senate chamber during the proceeding late Tuesday evening, clutching an electronic device.

Almost universally, senators said that the ban on electronic devices throughout the lengthy trial is the right thing, even if they’ve had a tough time adjusting.

“I think it’s actually good,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). “It does enhance our ability to concentrate and I’m taking lots of notes. So it can’t hurt to be away from the devices for a while.”

“It’s a little hard,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “But it makes us focus on what’s going on.”

A storage unit for phones stands next to the entrance of the Senate chamber on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Electronic devices are not a
A storage unit for phones stands next to the entrance of the Senate chamber on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Electronic devices are not allowed in the chamber for the Senate impeachment trial.

“Like every American who has an electronic, I suppose the first day we’ll have a little withdrawal, but we’ll be fine,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “I’m ready to sit there as long as I need to.”

“Many of my junior staff were concerned and alarmed. ‘How will you make it?’” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “I reminded them that I made it through all of law school without a cell phone, without an iPad. We may actually be able to focus more. It will be a needed digital cleanse.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a Senate veteran who served during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, stopped by the press pen during the first recess to convey how he and his colleagues felt getting their phones back. Reporters said he demonstrated this with a Gollum impression from “Lord of the Rings” while stroking his phone: “Oh, my precious.”

In the first 24 hours of the impeachment trial, the Senate chamber took on a bit of a college lecture hall vibe, albeit one where attentive pages judiciously fill senators’ water cups and pass them notes from their staff.

Some senators, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), studiously scribbled notes. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) twiddled his thumbs. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) played with his beard. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) brought a stack of napkins he used as tissues. And there were those who skirted the rules a bit: Roll Call counted seven senators with Apple Watches. 

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) took a big yawn, pulled on his socks, and took a series of slow, heavy blinks. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) rubbed his eyes. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) paced around and stretched out his legs. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) scanned the mostly empty gallery above the chamber. Sanders massaged his temples, rubbed his eyes and forehead with both hands, brushed off his lapels, and yawned. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) appeared to be lying down in the Democratic cloakroom. Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) was also spotted dozing. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to members of the news media during the Senate impeachment trial of President Don
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to members of the news media during the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

By Wednesday, as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) laid out the case for Trump’s removal from office, a number of senators appeared a bit better rested, if slightly bored. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) rubbed his hands and eyes. Sanders blew his nose. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) shifted in his seat and scanned the room, but perked up when Schiff played a clip of Trump asking Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign. “Russia, if you’re listening,” Trump’s voice boomed in the chamber as Graham smiled and nodded, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Igor Bobic, Arthur Delaney and Josie Harvey contributed to this story.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Sen. Ted Cruz as a Democrat.

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