GOP senators draw criticism for appearing to pay half-hearted attention to impeachment trial

Several Republican senators drew criticism Wednesday for appearing to pay only half-hearted attention to House impeachment managers' arguments as the trial stretched into its fourth hour.

Several whispered among themselves, while others chewed gum, doodled or struggled to stay awake.

The Republicans started paying closer attention when House impeachment managers began airing footage from inside the Capitol after it was breached in Jan. 6, including some that showed Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) staff barricading themselves in an office minutes before a group of rioters walked down a hallway.

But before that, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was spotted tracing the watermark of the Capitol on a legal pad while Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) appeared to read a magazine article and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) gazed at a 2021 calendar. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) was studying what appeared to be a map of Southeast Asia.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) was described by one reporter in the chamber as appearing to struggle to stay awake while Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) didn’t seem to pay much attention to Rep. Joe Neguse’s (D-Colo.) presentation. 

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) popped snacks into his mouth under his mask and at one point walked into the cloakroom, emerging moments later with a glass of milk. Milk and water are the only beverages allowed on the floor under Senate rules.

Other Republicans were paying diligent attention. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) had four stacks of note cards on his desk. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) took careful notes while Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) steadily watched the speakers at the podium.

A number of Republican senators arrived a few minutes late to the start of day two of the trial. One reporter counted 33 seats empty when the proceeding started at noon. The chamber didn’t fill up until about 12:20 p.m.

Paul wasn’t seen on the floor for most of the first hour and a half of arguments though he was spotted in the cloakroom raising up his arms and appearing to speak loudly. 

NBC reporter Garrett Haake, who was in the chamber, said the impeachment managers struggled with “the intractable nature of trying to get some of the folks in the room to actually engage with the material and be present and take this seriously.” 

As the arguments stretched on, more empty desks were spotted on the Republican side of the aisle.

“I notice some of their seats empty. It’s hard for me to know what they’re paying attention to,” remarked Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “I see on our side just about everyone” in their seats.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who objected to Pennsylvania's Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, watched the day two arguments from the visitor’s gallery about the Senate floor with his feet propped up on the seat in front of him, reading papers in unmarked manilla folders.

That body language drew a rebuke from former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), whom Hawley defeated in the 2018 midterm election.

"He's proud to pull himself apart from everyone else and be the only guy. This is all political for him. It's all political theater. That's why he's up there with his feet over the chair," she said on MSNBC. 

"He's probably working on his book manuscript,” she added. “It's very disrespectful.”

Hawley later explained to reporters he was reading through the trial briefs and his own notes. 

“For me, it’s a little less claustrophobic,” he said. “So we’re not all jammed together” on the floor.

“Not that I don’t like my colleagues,” he explained, adding that he sat apart so “we’re not elbow-to-elbow.”