Moments later, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who sits between Booker and Harris, passed by. “Wish they were somewhere else?” he said with a grin, playing along with my question, before offering a serious reply. “They have been focused totally on the trial,” he said. “I can tell you that all we’ve discussed is the trial, and they’ve both taken notes and they’re both fully and completely attentive to what’s going on.”
Read: Who plays by the rules?
“I’m sure it’s mixed feelings,” Bennet told me with a rueful smile when I caught up with him in the basement of the Capitol Thursday night to ask how he thought Booker and Harris were faring. As for himself, he’s headed to New Hampshire tomorrow to continue fulfilling his promise to hold 50 town-hall meetings, even if his message of commonsense moderation has failed to catch on with fired-up primary voters. He also insisted that his forced attendance at the trial—he frequently stands up to stretch—hasn’t been disappointing.
I stood with Bennet as he wolfed down a roast-beef sandwich in a hallway during a quick dinner break. “I think the House managers have presented such a compelling case. I think our democracy is at real risk,” he added, bemoaning McConnell’s refusal to allow a hearing on Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, and his restrictive rules for the impeachment trial. “If this becomes a permanent state of affairs, this is what ancient observers said would be the end of the republic. We are at risk of having a set of rules that won’t allow the American people to see what the facts are.”
Booker’s and Harris’s primary-season comedown is nothing, of course, compared with the fate suffered by sitting senators such as George McGovern, John Kerry, and John McCain, who won their parties’ nomination only to lose the biggest prize in the general election, and returned to Capitol Hill as one humble face among 100. After his losing campaigns for president, Senator Bob Dole liked to joke that he’d slept like a baby: “Every two hours I woke up and cried.”
In 1980, Ted Kennedy returned to the Senate after his failed primary challenge to Jimmy Carter. But he was a senior member and chair of the Judiciary Committee, and slipped right back into place, his former aide Bill Carrick recalls. A bigger blow was the Democrats’ loss of the Senate to the GOP in Ronald Reagan’s victory that fall. “Being in the minority for the first time, now that is a transition,” Carrick says. “Of course, he then became the de facto leader of the Reagan opposition in the ’80s.”
But dropping out before a single vote was cast still stings, and Booker’s and Harris’s body language in the chamber has seemed to reflect that this week. Booker tends to take notes on his lap, Harris on her desk. Booker rests his chin in his hand; Harris folds her arms across her chest. That’s about the extent of the allowable variations in posture.