WASHINGTON (CN) — Representative Adam Schiff invoked Alexander Hamilton on Wednesday to justify President Donald Trump’s removal from office, standing in what the lead House impeachment manager called the “hallowed chamber” of the U.S. Senate. But exhaustion and disinterest struck the senators-turned-jurors throughout the day’s historic proceedings after a very late night of debating trial rules.
Senator Rand Paul glued his eyes on a crossword puzzle hidden under his desk during opening arguments from Schiff, the House Intelligence chairman from California. Senator Bernie Sanders could be seen nodding off, slouched deep in his wooden desk with his chin bobbing on his chest.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed back on questions Wednesday over whether Democrats made a strategic error by keeping senators until 2 a.m. to push through a series of votes on amendments to guarantee witnesses and evidence. All were rejected on party-line votes.
“The American people want the truth. We would be derelict in our responsibilities if we didn't ask for these votes,” Schumer said in a press conference.
But Democrats need at least four GOP members to vote to subpoena witnesses like national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And the Republican side of the Senate chamber made a blatant showing of disinterest mere hours into House managers’ case against Trump.
Yawns rippled through the room, from Republicans and Democrats alike, while some senators like Ted Cruz of Texas wiped sleep from their eyes.
Food is strictly prohibited in the chamber. But Senate pages shuffled with speed through the room, whisking away empty water glasses and quickly replacing them filled. Looking to mix it up, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott requested water “with bubbles” while Senator Maria Cantwell ordered hers hot.
Early in the day, Sanders and Senator Cory Booker asked a page to fetch a second glass so they had two sitting ready to gulp down.
Senator Ben Sasse exited the chamber to return moments later chewing a mouthful of a snack snagged from the halls. Other lawmakers masked munching behind fists covering their mouths.
Channeling more focus than most of their fellow Republicans, Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney — GOP senators who Democrats hope will vote to hear witnesses — vigorously took notes through Schiff’s opening.
Romney jotted down his notes on a half-full legal notepad, peering over his glasses at Schiff and the House managers.
Though Murkowski had locked her gaze for more than 12 hours on House managers and Trump’s lawyers during the wearisome Tuesday debate, as Wednesday afternoon dragged the Alaska senator’s attention began to waver: she rocked on the back legs of her desk chair and dropped notetaking.
Senator Lindsey Graham never feigned interest in the proceedings, preoccupying himself with side-chatter with fellow GOP members, biting his nails and sitting crisscrossed by hour 4 of the Democrat presentation.
A staunch supporter of the president, Graham laughed unabashedly as Schiff played now-famous clips of Trump saying “Russia if you’re listening” in inviting the foreign power to investigate his then-political opponent Hillary Clinton, and inviting China from the White House lawn to investigate Joe Biden.
As Graham found humor in the videos presented as evidence, 47 Democrats and his fellow 52 Republican sat stone-faced.
Clocking in at more than two and a half hours, Schiff’s opening argument left dozens of empty chairs on the Senate floor as Republicans – and a few sleepy Democrats – left the room to converse in the halls or grab a snack.
When the California Democrat said, “Now let me turn to the second article of impeachment,” McConnell crumpled in his chair.
“The end is in sight,” Schiff assured, as exasperation boiled on the Republican side of the chamber and more senators trickled out.
Even Democrats strongly backing impeachment drifted to the back of the room to stretch their legs as Schiff’s opening drew to a close. Booker, towering at 6 feet 2 inches, leaned up against a marble pillar at the back end of the room, still focused on Schiff’s remarks.
Absent from the room for more than 30 minutes, Sanders and Senator Amy Klobuchar — both pulled from the 2020 campaign trail to judge the impeachment case — cruised back in together to take their seats as Schiff concluded by urging senators to preserve the republic with a fair trial.
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