The impeachment trial of the century had barely begun when word came down that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had softened his initial plan to make the House managers and President Donald Trump’s lawyers present their cases in marathon 12-hour sessions over four days. He’ll allow the teams a more civilized eight hours over six days instead.
And a good thing, too—if the first afternoon’s deliberations were any sign. One hundred senators accustomed to talking at length were silenced by the trial rules, and by sundown they were visibly chafing, frustrated by the unbridgeable gap between the 18th-century gravity of the proceedings and the universal assumptions about its forgone conclusion.
At 3:45 p.m. EST, Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, stifled a yawn. Two minutes later, as debate dragged on, he vigorously rubbed his eyes with both hands and yawned again. At 4:04, he shielded both eyes and held his head in his right hand. By 4:45, his eyes seemed to briefly close altogether.
“The eyes are on the Senate,” McConnell intoned during the opening period of “morning business” before the trial got formally under way in the early afternoon (only in the Senate does the morning hour come after noon). “The country is waiting to see if we can rise to the occasion.” Minutes later, Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, echoed the sentiment. “My colleagues,” he intoned, “the eyes of the nation, the eyes of the Founding Fathers, the eyes of history are upon us. Will the Senate rise to the occasion?”