Washington • As senators took their seats for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, they found their desks topped with two newly sharpened No. 2 pencils and a blank legal pad.
This was not a test, though.
It was, depending on which side of the aisle the senators sat, either the culmination of a long-running witch hunt or the constitutionally required remedy for removing a rogue president.
The result may be essentially preordained — Trump is expected to be acquitted given the 53-seat majority Republicans hold and the high threshold of 67 votes to remove the president — but the dry theater began to play out as expected. Shakespeare, it was not.
Those Americans watching the trial unfold, or even those who caught a few minutes, likely saw Chief Justice John Roberts presiding over the chamber and close-up shots of House managers (the prosecutors) or Trump’s hand-picked legal team (the defense) offering their full-throated arguments. But they might have missed some of the closer details outside of the Senate-controlled camera view.
Just minutes before Roberts began the trial, senators sauntered in, taking their assigned seats on the left and the right, the aisle serving as sort of a line of demarcation between warring factions. A stenographer stood guard in the middle.
Some on both sides appeared to coordinate their outfits.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., donned a red tie. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wore a blue one.
There were many more red ties on the right — at least eight were spotted — than blue on the left, but Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, might have missed the memo. His tie was blue.
With phones and laptops banned from the chamber, save a couple of Apple laptops for the prosecutors and one for Roberts, senators were forced to watch the entire proceeding without checking social media. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., apparently broke the rules, or smartly bent them, by wearing his Apple Watch hidden under his left cuff and surreptitiously checking messages.
Otherwise, the Senate, trying its third president impeached by the House in American history, remained stuck in the past.
Photographers were banned, so a sketch artist sat in the gallery with an array of colored pencils to capture the scene. Reporters were left to record their first account of the historic trial with pen and paper.
Senators could drink only water or milk in the chamber. Milk did not seem popular.
The man on trial, the president, wasn’t there to confront his accusers. He was thousands of miles away in Switzerland for an economic forum, though his presence was still felt.
At times, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who led the prosecution, played video clips of Trump saying that he could do what he wanted under the Constitution and how he wanted his aides to testify.
Large flat-screen TVs played those clips, but only senators and some in the public gallery could see them. For the rest, it appeared as if Trump’s voice came booming from the heavens above.
As the first day wore on, yawns grew contagious in the public galleries partially packed with tourists and the well-connected who wanted to catch history. Some read and reread the only paper they had: the rules they must abide by. A wife jabbed her husband back awake while a Senate aide chastised another man for nodding off.
Actress Alyssa Milano, who has become something of a Washington-watcher of late, gazed down from her first-row seat in the gallery and seemed more interested in the debate than some of the senators below.
More than eight hours into the trial, the actual trial had yet to actually begin as the Senate weighed the rules it would follow going forward.
The first vote, as expected, was along party lines. The second one, too. The third, well, you get the picture.
The Senate shot down amendments by Schumer to subpoena White House, State Department and Office of Management and Budget documents and require acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, testify.
The rules remained as McConnell planned, save for two tweaks: one allowing House evidence into the trial unless there was an objection and another stretching the opening arguments over three days instead of two so the trial wouldn't last into the wee morning hours.
Whenever they get to the trial part of the trial, that is.