What to watch during impeachment: Napping senators

Things are getting soporific in the Senate chamber

Capitol workers wind the Ohio Clock in the Ohio Clock Corridor in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Capitol workers wind the Ohio Clock in the Ohio Clock Corridor in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 22, 2020 at 2:38pm

“Spot the snoozing politician” is pretty much an annual tradition at the State of the Union. Now there’s a new chance to play the game.

As President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial continues, lawmakers are slouching, yawning and fidgeting — and observers in the gallery are watching for drooping eyelids.

Some senators are already on notice. Virginia’s Mark Warner rested his head on his hand Tuesday around 1:50 p.m. Idaho’s Jim Risch appeared to nod off in the 5 o’clock hour, a moment a sketch artist for the New York Times captured for posterity.

Maybe they were just centering themselves, or dreaming of more comfortable chairs. (Warner’s office did not return our request for comment.)

Either way, conditions are ripe for sleepytime in the Senate chamber. You can’t check your phone or whisper to your neighbor, according to the rules governing the trial. Throw in a little warm milk, and you’re halfway to dreamtown.

We’re serious about the milk. It’s one of two beverages always allowed on the floor, as large amounts of Twitter users pointed out this week as they searched for bits of color. The other sanctioned beverage is water.

Coffee is not allowed, which brings us back to snoozeville. It was so quiet in the chamber Tuesday that when Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal sneezed — not once, not twice, but three times — he didn’t even get a “bless you.”

That eerie stillness, combined with the raw physical strength it takes to endure 24 hours of talking in the space of three days, makes the impeachment trial a prime setting for inner-eyelid-gazing — even better than the State of the Union.

“The audience, for the most part, is awake because they are bobbing up and down, and we sit there, stone-faced,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg said of the State of the Union in 2015. She and her fellow Supreme Court justices abstain from clapping, which may help explain why she very noticeably fell asleep during President Barack Obama’s speech that year, letting her chin drift gently toward her jabot. (She blamed it on wine.)

With impeachment proceedings stretching well into the night Tuesday, ending around 2 a.m. Wednesday, decorum might fall victim to bodily needs. One senator to watch is Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who is so committed to observing a strict bedtime that he once excused himself from a high-profile hearing he was supposed to be chairing. If everybody went to bed at 9 p.m. to prepare themselves for an invigorating morning run, there’d be fewer drooping heads all around.

Lindsey McPherson and Kathryn Lyons contributed to this report.