Even in an impeachment trial, Saturdays stand apart from the workweek.
On the first day of arguments from the lawyers for President Donald Trump, the mood of the Senate was far more subdued than it had been during the three days that House managers presented their case.
After three straight days of Democrats trying to drive home their point through repetition and emotional appeals that Trump needed to be convicted, Republicans offered scattered critiques during the morning. As Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow described it to reporters on Friday, it would serve to preview arguments next week like a trailer to a movie. The result was somewhat inconsistent. While one White House lawyer, Patrick Philbin, went through arguments citing case law, another White House lawyer, Michael Purpura, didn’t even speak before playing a video of Adam Schiff’s comments — which he attacked as “fake.”
But the mood wasn’t just different because an entirely new cast of lawyers was addressing the chamber. There was also was a sense of fatigue permeating proceedings on Saturday.
Everyone was exhausted. Senators seemed frazzled and worn down by the long week. A cacophony of coughs could be heard throughout the day and several lawmakers could be seen unwrapping lozenges on the floor. For much of the morning, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona sat with a shawl wrapped around her for warmth while Elizabeth Warren could be seen rubbing her arms in the frigid chamber.
Unlike the long days throughout the week, where senators — particularly Republican senators — roamed the room and shuttled back and forth from their cloakroom, there was relatively little movement on Saturday morning. Republicans seemed to take even fewer notes as they stared ahead at the president’s lawyers, who spoke for only two hours of their allotted time.
There were no vocal guffaws or emotional responses such as those provoked by Adam Schiff’s closing address in Friday night, when Democrats seemed moved by the California congressman’s oratory and Republicans were offended that he cited a CBS News report that GOP senators had been warned, “Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.” (Some shouted “Not true!” in response.)
Instead, members gave off the air of teenagers being punished with a Saturday study hall for some unknown demerit. They were doing just enough to get through a court session that Trump had already complained would happen during “Death Valley in TV” on Saturday morning.
The frozen pose Mitch McConnell took throughout the proceedings at his front-row desk was actually par for the course.
Even mild changes from normal demeanor stood out, like when Bernie Sanders — who has often sat hunched over his desk — spent a long period leaning back in his wooden chair, hands folded across his chest.
Sanders was one of four presidential candidates in the chamber forced to spend the week off the stump. He and the other presidential candidates — Michael Bennet, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren — had tried to squeeze in local and national television hits at every opportunity during breaks and waited intently to rush back to the campaign trail at the first chance.
Once the trial adjourned for the weekend at noon, it finally gave senators — at least those not running for president — a respite. For 49 entire hours, they will not be compelled to listen to legal arguments. Many were ready to go home. Others had their spouses waiting for them in the building. Connie Schultz, the wife of Sherrod Brown, and Doug Emhoff, the husband of Kamala Harris, had watched the proceedings Saturday morning together in the gallery. This meant there were fewer lingering conversations on the Senate floor after the chief justice struck his gavel than there had been on previous days.
But at 1 p.m. Monday, with “Death Valley” over with, it will all begin again. At that point, once Trump lawyers like Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz make their arguments, the Senate is likely to be far less sedentary.