WASHINGTON — The Senate is just in the beginning stages of its trial of President Donald Trump. It’s a rare moment that is part trial, part political theater, and, apparently, part wellness retreat.
Every day, all 100 members of the Senate are required to leave their phones behind and sit silently at their desks, only able to pass notes on paper and get messages delivered to them from the outside world via high school students serving as Senate pages. They did it for 13 hours straight on Tuesday and as they listened to the House impeachment managers make their case over several more hours Wednesday, many of them said they reveled in their newfound, phone-less freedom.
“I do joke about ‘my precious,’” Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy told reporters of being reunited with his phone when he leaves the chamber, doing a brief impression of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. But he said it’s been a relief to get away from it all.
“Everybody’s calling, they’ve got to talk to me, and the office [says], ‘I know he wants to talk to you, he just can’t,’” he said with a smile. “I love it.”
Later, with his arms spread wide, Leahy simply declared, “It’s liberating! It’s liberating!”
Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana reported similar relief. “It’s kind of refreshing to be honest with you,” he said.
Kennedy has looked to keep up a wellness routine in other ways, too, as the trial has gotten underway. When a reporter noted he had walked over to the Democratic side of the chamber earlier in the day, Kennedy responded, “Well, you gotta stretch.”
The senator also said he is, unlike some of his colleagues, avoiding the famous Senate candy desk, where Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey keeps treats for other members. “I don’t eat that stuff,” Kennedy said. “It’ll kill you.”
Most members of the Senate were around for many years before smartphones. At the start of the 116th Congress, the average age of the Senate was 62.9 years. (Sens. Leahy and Kennedy are 79 and 68, respectively.)
But even some younger members said they enjoyed the time without their devices. Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, 56, said his staff were very concerned about how he’d get through the day without his iPhone by his side, but said he wasn’t worried.
“I reminded them I made it through a four-year chemistry degree and a three-year law degree before iPhones were invented, so it’s actually a refreshing digital cleanse,” he said. “I think it makes some of the folks who work for me very nervous that they can’t reach me immediately. It’s good. It’s fine, it’s nice to focus.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris, 55, admitted that it has been a “long time” since she’s been away from her phone for as long as she has been during the trial, and even then, it was because she was camping. But she said she enjoys focusing on the event without distractions.
“If we are being very candid and honest, this is the third time in history we are looking at this kind of serious matter, the impeachment of a president,” she said. “So, you know, aside from family, there probably aren’t many more things that are as important or as deserving of full attention as these proceedings.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii was brief. “Well, I'll tell you, you can get used to anything," she said of being away from her phone.
Others have bent the rules. At least seven of them, according to Roll Call, brought in Apple Watches Tuesday, and at least one, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, was spotted wearing his again Wednesday.
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey took the opportunity to make a dad joke, of course, sticking an actual apple into the cubbies where senators are keeping their phones, according to Sen. Angus King’s Instagram. “Cory Booker decided to rib us iPhone folks with his own real-life Apple,” King wrote. “But does it stream CNN?”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was more serious, telling reporters Wednesday that he hopes his Republican colleagues, who he said he’s sure would “rather have been somewhere else”, would take the opportunity to really listen without distractions.
“The wisdom of the Founding Fathers, and the structure of impeachment, forces them to sit and listen,” he said, “and the case is amazingly compelling.”