No escape: Senators to be quiet, unplugged for Trump trial

No escape: Senators to be quiet, unplugged for Trump trial

Monday, January 20, 2020

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WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AP) — No cellphones. No talking. No escape.

That's the reality during the Senate's impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, which will begin each day with a proclamation: “All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment.” After that, 100 senators will sit at their desks for hours on end to hear from House prosecutors, Trump's defence team and possibly a series of witnesses.

The first time the proclamation was used, in the 1868 trial of President Andrew Johnson, lawmakers couldn't have imagined life in the modern era. The pace of today's politics would have been hard to foresee even in early 1999, at the start of the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, when smartphones didn't exist.

And so the senators will have a throwback experience in 2020, disconnected from the outside world, asked only to listen. The normally chummy senators won't even be allowed to talk at length to people nearby or walk on certain areas of the Senate floor. Mostly they will sit, trapped in the chamber, focused on the issue at hand.

While senators might privately grumble about the restrictions — and will likely violate them at times — they agree that the rules are justified as they execute their most solemn duty: considering whether to remove the president of the United States from office.

An impeachment trial “deserves our undivided attention”, said Senator Chris Coons, D-Del.

The ban on cellphones on the Senate floor isn't new, but enforcement has become more relaxed in recent years. Coons said that when he came to the Senate a decade ago, he would be reprimanded if he even took his phone out of his pocket. Today, senators are often spotted texting or looking at their phones while waiting to speak or vote — and a ringtone has sounded more than once.

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