U.S. senators on ‘digital detox’ as they hear Trump’s impeachment trial


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some members of the U.S. Senate hearing President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, a proceeding following decades-old precedent, said they welcomed at least one of the chamber’s anachronistic rules: a ban on cellphones.

“We’re all on a digital detox,” said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, during a break in what is just the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. “It meant people actually had to look at each other instead of looking down at their phones.”

The rules, which also require senators who love to talk to listen in silence as each side presents its case, are intended to keep the chamber’s 100 members focused on the momentous task at hand..

At the same time, senators might find it difficult, if not impossible, to wander from the Capitol campus during the trial to solicit campaign contributions or just keep in touch with family members.

The senators are serving as jurors as the chamber considers whether to remove the Republican president from office on charges brought by the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

During a break in Wednesday’s proceedings, Senator Ben Cardin spoke to reporters while pecking out an iPhone message to his granddaughter. He said he did not mind being unable to get messages during the session.

“That’s another advantage,” Democrat Cardin said. “I want to pay attention to what’s going on, so it doesn’t disturb me at all. I don’t mind being free from my electronic devices.”

The cellphone rule is a perennial one in the Senate, but is being more strictly enforced as the chamber holds to a schedule that could see 48 hours of argument in six days that stretch well into the night.

Members of both parties, including the four Democratic senators running for president, relied on their staffs to keep up communications with voters, constituents and others outside the chamber.

Klobuchar, who is one of the presidential contenders, handed over control of some of her social media to her daughter, Abigail, who was campaigning for her in Iowa in the run-up to the Feb. 3 caucus when Democrats will cast their first votes in the race for their party’s nomination to face Trump in November’s election.

“My mom is in D.C. today, so I’ll be taking over her Twitter account as I travel across Iowa,” Klobuchar’s daughter said.

A CNN political analyst asked whether tweets from Republican Senator Ted Cruz meant he had smuggled in his phone, prompting his office to respond that staffers were putting out the messages.

“Interrupting impeachment coverage for one second to answer all the incoming inquiries asking: ‘Did Sen. Cruz sneak his phone onto the Senate floor?,’” spokeswoman Lauren Aronson said in a statement. “The answer is, ‘No, of course not.’”

Senator Mitt Romney, one of four centrist Republicans seen as open to a Democratic push to call witnesses and introduce new evidence in the trial, admitted disliking not being in touch with his staff in the chamber.

“Ha, I do miss my electronic connection, I’ve got to tell you,” Romney said during a short break. “No doubt about that.”

Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney

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