Reporters present at the impeachment trial in the Senate have noticed a whole host of lawmakers wandering in and out of the chamber during the lengthy days, which earlier this week stretched on until 2 a.m. ET.
A tally from freelance reporter Michael McAuliff during Wednesday’s proceeding:
Just counted 21 empty seats on the GOP side of the Senate, 2 on the Dem side, a couple hours into Schiff’s presentation. Some are just stretching their legs, but most are not in the chamber. Some of them have been out of there for a while.
— Michael McAuliff (@mmcauliff) January 22, 2020
The observations raise two issues: one of legality and one of optics.
Is It Allowed?
Nothing in the official Senate impeachment rules forbids it. The rules, dating from March 2, 1868, make little mention of the chamber at all, except to determine that the doors to the Senate should be left open, unless the members are in deliberations.
Senate leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) circulated their own guidance ahead of the trial, where they made passing mention of the attendance expectations.
“Senators should plan to be in attendance at all times during the proceedings,” they wrote in the decorum guidelines.
“During the impeachment proceedings, standing will not be permitted on the floor and this requirement will be strictly enforced,” they also wrote. “Accordingly, all Senators are requested to remain in their seats at all times they are on the Senate floor during the impeachment proceedings.”
But that’s about it. And some senators are having little trouble bucking what limited guidance they’ve been given.
Per CNN, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spent more time out of his seat than in it Wednesday night. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also left for stretches, while Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) could be seen using his iPhone in the Democratic cloakroom (electronics are banned from the chamber during the trial).
Meanwhile, some of those who may have the most to lose by being sequestered stayed securely in place for the duration on Wednesday. According to CNN, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), both running for President, stayed in the chamber for the entirety of the proceedings. They were reportedly joined by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME), two of the most scrutinized lawmakers due to their past willingness to vote with Democrats.
Does It Look Bad?
It might, if we could see it. A part of the draconian press restrictions of the Senate impeachment trial dictates that only the Senate cameras can film in the chamber, and they are trained on the dais. So, it’s easy for senators to slip out or walk around unnoticed by those not in the room itself.
Senators who’ve addressed the absences seem largely unbothered.
Klobuchar told CNN on Wednesday that aside from people wandering out to use the bathroom or get coffee, she’d estimate that the chamber is filled to about “95%” capacity at any time.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said that he has no issue with people milling about and talking at the back of the room.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told CNN that senators are struggling to understand why they have to sit there in the first place, accusing Democrats of presenting the “same arguments over and over and over again.”