No electronics. No talking. No food. What sounds like the strict rules of a primary school classroom are actually designated for the 100 US senators who will decide the impeachment fate of Donald Trump.
While the negotiations between Republicans and Democrats become a bitter fight over new evidence and witnesses, the US constitution only dictates that the Senate maintains “the sole [p]ower to try all [i]mpeachments”. Beyond that, there’s few rules about how the trial should go.
Therefore, protocol and decorum are determined by leaders of both parties. Official decorum guidelines for the trial were released by the offices of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and minority leader, Chuck Schumer, and they range from strict to downright wonky.
Much of the impeachment process is borrowed from English traditions. House members serve as the prosecutors, also called House or impeachment managers. The defense is permitted their own managers and each side serves as essential cheerleaders for their argument.
Don’t look for loud cheers, however.
Even though America won its independence from Britain nearly 245 years ago, archaic English still rules the day. The trial must begin with the proclamation “Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!” It’s a polite way of telling the audience to be quiet.
The quiet continues as senators play the role of jury. Chatty lawmakers will have a hard time during what is expected to be a two-week ordeal. They are not allowed to talk to each other during the proceedings.
Instead, designated staffers known as pages are permitted to send remarks and commentary from the senators’ seats to the outside. Inside, senators are left to old-school options like passing notes.
Complete silence also means no electronic devices are permitted. The long hours of restricted technology is forcing senators to get creative and comical with their communication.
“I’m thinking about blinking to someone in the audience to transmit my messages out because I want to make sure that I’m communicating live. Don’t tell anyone, though,” the Republican senator Rand Paul joked to CNN.
The long hours of silence and limited communications would surely make any senator feel parched. But senators are only allowed to chew small candies, and drink water or milk during the proceedings. No food is allowed.
After a tortuous week of limited food, tech and talk, lawmakers may want rush to their usual Friday night flights or trains back to their home states. But that’s not an option – Saturdays are working days until the impeachment trial concludes.
While the senators may joke, Democrat Brian Schatz of Hawaii, in an interview with CNN reminded that rules “are there for a reason”. Donald Trump faces serious allegations related to his and others’ efforts to pressure Ukraine into digging up dirt on a political rival. Considering, he said, the rules “shouldn’t be that difficult”.
Democrats will now make their case before John Roberts, the chief justice of the supreme court. They just can’t call him that.
According to the official decorum rules, senators are to call him “Mr Chief Justice”.