Many took breaks from listening to the hours-long presentations by house managers to stretch. But only hours into the presentations, several senators were spotted nodding off, including Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. Sen. Joni Ernst was spotted sipping a Monster energy drink as she walked through the halls of the Capitol in the morning.


It's well-known that humans attention span doesn't last for an hour, let alone for hours. Why, then, would the Senate adopt such a masochistic schedule? Assuming the Senate wants to do a good job, it sounds nonsensical not to provide their members with the environment necessary to do a good job.

Edit: headline today, How long can the U.S. Senate sit still? Twenty minutes. The headline just about says it all - if the senators can only pay attention for 20 minutes it sounds nonsensical to have sessions that last for hours until after midnight. Logically it shouldn't matter where the senators stood on impeachment, they would oppose this timetable for their own sanity (especially those senators who are 70+ years old).

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    "Assuming the Senate wants to do a good job..." I would start by questioning your assumptions, myself :-) Beyond that (and quite apart from any political considerations), have you ever been involved in any jury trial? I was called as part of the jury pool (but not selected as a juror, for which I'm thankful) for one in which just the preliminaries took several days. If I'm recalling news accounts correctly, the actual trial took something like six months. I believe lawyers bill by the hour :-(
    – jamesqf
    Jan 23, 2020 at 4:08
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    Perhaps you could clarify what aspect of the rules (schedule) you consider to be "masochistic". Jan 23, 2020 at 9:44
  • @Burt_Harris the time scheduled for hearings - since attention span doesn't last an hour, they could have 45 minute sessions followed by a break, then more 45 minute sessions (or even think about a different topic), etc, instead of having sessions that go on for hours until 2am at night.
    – Allure
    Jan 23, 2020 at 12:29
  • While it's an interesting question, any answer clearly invokes speculation , thus the question is not suitable for this forum (skeptics SE might be more appropriate).
    – BobE
    Jan 23, 2020 at 14:47
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    @BobE I believe last night I read an article that said a Senate aid claimed this was part of McConnell's strategy: by offering 2 days he could then "concede" to offer them three, but the real point either way is to bait Democrats into thinking they need to use the entirety of their time, because the marathon sessions will bore everyone and make people side against them. I'm not sure if that's really reliable or remotely true, but I bring this up because I wonder if such things would provide suitably non-speculative answers. Jan 23, 2020 at 16:21

4 Answers 4


Because Senate leadership [which largely shapes these rules] sees the trial's outcome as a forgone conclusion

“I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters last month.

The accelerated schedule (towards that foregone conclusion) goes hand in hand with not calling any [new] witnesses or subpoenaing any [new] documents etc.

As for why not make the trial a lot shorter then... The GOP leadership also said there are not enough votes to dismiss the trial. A one hour trial would basically look like equivalent to a dismissal. The Senate also had to vote on the [present] rules, so they are a compromise inside the GOP. Some GOP Senators also wanted to use the proceedings to give Trump a chance to present a more detailed defense. A few GOP senators even said they would only decide whether to hear additional witnesses after hearing the initial arguments (based on prior testimony). So these were the additional constraints that led to the present format.

  • Current senate rules do not permit for a dismissal. In fact, the reason Nancy Pelosi finally transmitted the articles was because there was growing support in the Senate to amend the rules to allow for Dismissal for failure to prosecute within a certain timeline and some Senators were hoping to dismiss because they can getting ruled back in.
    – hszmv
    Jan 27, 2020 at 17:59

Let's state a few facts establishing the preconditions:

  • The GOP and their senators, by and large, have made their peace with Trump's presidency. They do not want him removed from office, neither by election nor by impeachment.

  • Tolerating this President involves tolerating a person very different from the conservative ideal and tolerating policies, especially budget policies, very different from central conservative tenets. It seems unlikely that the Ukraine affair is the straw that breaks the camel's back.

  • The only threat to the Republican senators are elections; for these it is crucial to not alienate the public.

To keep Trump in power, they must prevent the Ukraine affair from appearing sufficient for an impeachment in the public eye. To keep themselves in power, they must do so without creating the impression of a cover-up.

The goal of the GOP is emphatically not to "do a good job", as you phrased it, by conducting a meaningful investigation.

The Democrats' goal is about the opposite: They want to remove the president to begin with and don't tolerate the Ukraine affair. In order to sway the needed number of centrist Republican senators they try to build public pressure.

This lack of interest in the investigation by the GOP vs. the opposite Democratic interest results in a power game over the impeachment procedures.

Any evidence, every witness, every meme on prime time television threatens to influence the public, and the GOP tries to prevent these without losing credibility. The best thing that can happen is a boring procedure full of rituals, decorum and tradition at 1 a.m. that nobody who isn't on meth can follow without falling asleep. Its lack of substance is shrouded in its outer form: That of an important, substantial trial. That is what the public sees, and that is by design.

As an example, Trump didn't want "to drag [the House Managers' presentation] out through Saturday, ending the first week — and heading into the Sunday talk shows — with no formal response from the president’s defenders".

The schedule is informed by the necessities of TV, not by any necessities of investigation.

The GOP was concerned about keeping substance out of the public discourse to the extent possible without betraying this very goal.


"Still, if they see it as a forgone conclusion, why wouldn't they take the even quicker route? Just say both sides have 30 minutes to present arguments and reach a verdict in a day, something like that."

Responding to a comment in another answer, but there's a lot at play here. While we can only speculate on some of this at least, the argument being made on giving it "just enough" time was that the senate is treating this like a more normal trial.

Many on the right are arguing that the House pushed through the impeachment in a hurry without waiting for all of the necessary steps to happen. For instance, one of the impeachment articles says it was an abuse of power for him to prevent members of the executive branch from testifying. However, they didn't actually appeal this and take it to the judicial branch to decide, they just moved forward with the impeachment.

They also STILL, at the time of this writing have not allowed for a House minority hearing:

“The House rules do not afford you the ability to deny this request. Though scheduling is left to your discretion, when considering the unprecedented speed at which the majority is moving towards impeaching a duly elected president, a delay under these circumstances is tantamount to a denial of our right to a minority hearing,” they continued.

“Until our procedural rights as Members of the United States House of Representatives are respected, we will avail ourselves of every parliamentary tool available to us in committees and the House floor in order to highlight your inaction,” it reads.
Source (The Hill): https://thehill.com/homenews/house/473962-house-gop-calls-for-minority-hearing-on-impeachment-vows-to-use-procedural

So at this point, the senate majority leaders have taken a stance that they are going to judge the impeachment on current information, rather than doing additional discovery. Regardless of how you feel about the president or the GOP, this is a reasonably objectively 'fair' outcome given that the job of the House is to determine if there's enough evidence to impeach the president, not the job of the Senate.

However, they still have to get through all of the evidence presented during the House's judicial hearings, or they'd lose people in the center who want a reasonably fair trial, even if the scope is limited to the discovery that's already happened.

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    There are different standards of proof between impeachment (indictment) and conviction. In a criminal trial (which I know this isn't), the indictment is that there is sufficient evidence to suppose that the person might be guilty. It still takes an actual trial to determine actual guilt or innocence.
    – doneal24
    Jan 23, 2020 at 13:43

Another thing to consider: The Iowa caucus is on Feb 3rd, followed closely by the New Hampshire primary. Several Senators (Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar, Bennet) are running in that caucus as Presidential hopefuls. The senate trial rules require all Senators to be in attendance, which means those Senators can't be on the road campaigning while the trial is ongoing. The longer the trial drags on, the larger advantage it gives to those candidates that aren't sitting Senators. The early primaries are key, and being caught up by a lengthy trial could severely hinder those Senators' chances of securing the nomination.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has suggested that the Democrat party establishment withheld the impeachment articles in order to delay the trial and intentionally cause this exact problem, giving Biden an early advantage and hindering those Senators. I think that's just speculation at this point, but it illustrates the potential severity of a lengthy trial.

  • 3
    On the other hand, I don't think the Republican Party is really very interested in improving the electoral chances of Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar, or Bennet. Other than maybe to give Trump a less electable competitor in the general election.
    – reirab
    Jan 23, 2020 at 22:16
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    @reirab - I think about it more along the lines of not wanting to be accused of influencing the other party's primary election. A fast trial means they're making a real effort to get out of the way as fast as possible.
    – bta
    Jan 23, 2020 at 22:26

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