The impeachment trial veered off-script for the first time at around 1 a.m. on its second day, when Chief Justice John Roberts scolded the House prosecutors and President Trump’s lawyers, reminding them to stay civil as they made their arguments to the 100 senators sitting (or, in one case, sleeping) as jurors. The clash came during arguments over the rules that wrapped up in the wee hours. When the trial reconvened Wednesday afternoon, the main act began: Head impeachment manager Adam Schiff, a Democratic representative from California, outlined the House’s case for removing the president from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
ROBERTS’S RULES OF ORDER: The Constitution requires chief justices to preside over presidential impeachment trials, but it’s hazy on what that job actually involves. Before the trial, pundits wondered how much influence Chief Justice John Roberts would try to exert over the proceedings, knowing that a simple majority of senators could overrule any decision he makes to allow evidence or witnesses. Roberts’s upbraiding of the lawyers early Wednesday morning wasn’t exactly a muscular assertion of control over the trial. But with just that statement, he’s already played a more visible role than the presiding officer at the last presidential impeachment trial, former chief justice William Rehnquist. — ALAN WIRZBICKI
The chief justice admonished House managers & Trump's lawyers to cool their rhetoric, since they are addressing "the world’s greatest deliberative body." I can't imagine how he managed to say that about Mitch McConnell & Chuck Schumer's hyperpolarized Senate with a straight face. pic.twitter.com/Z6IHF72pBV— Jeff Jacoby (@Jeff_Jacoby) January 22, 2020
POLITICS, UNPLUGGED: Who among us hasn’t browsed Twitter or text-messaged a colleague during a work meeting? How would our productivity fare, and our thinking change, if an electronics ban were instituted at the workplace?
According to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s decorum rules for the Trump impeachment trial, senators are barred from bringing electronic devices, including smartphones, to the proceedings. (Although the rules apparently failed in one regard: at least eight senators were spotted on Tuesday, the first day of the trial, wearing an Apple Watch.)
For his part, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, or an aide to him, mocked the no-electronics rule by tweeting: “COME AND TAKE IT.” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, called the ban “beautifully old-fashion.”
It’s more than that — fully unplugging from the fast-paced and partisan punditry provided by the Internet is a sane thing to do in general. But for the senators, stepping away from online echo chambers telling partisans what to think might be a necessary step toward fulfilling their oaths to be impartial jurors. — MARCELA GARCÍA
A RELIC?: It’s easy to focus, in the early stages of the trial, on the partisan nastiness. Democrats have accused Republicans of “treacherous” behavior and Republicans say the Democrats have brought a “clown circus” to the Senate floor. But beneath the name-calling is a worrisome threat to the checks and balances at the core of American democracy. If the Senate fails to take the charges against the president seriously — if it renders impeachment another meaningless exercise in partisan warfare — it will give future presidents new permission to trample on the norms of American politics. It will solidify President Trump’s most troublesome legacy. Representative Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor in the trial, laid out the stakes in the well of the Senate today: “If it is a relic,” he said, of the impeachment process, “I wonder how much longer our Republic can succeed.” — DAVID SCHARFENBERG