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How the Senate entered Trump impeachment trial mode

With mini-squats, a phone cubby and a candy smorgasbord, lawmakers geared up as the trial of President Donald Trump began in earnest.
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WASHINGTON — One senator wandered around the Senate floor doing mini-squats, as if to prepare for a long day ahead in his seat. Another senator who usually travels home from Washington daily told his wife that he might not be home for two weeks. Still another filled his desk on the floor with a candy smorgasbord to keep fellow lawmakers from going hungry.

The Senate was deep in prep mode as the trial of President Donald Trump began in earnest Tuesday. House impeachment managers argued for removing the president from office, and the president's legal team debated rules outlining the initial parameters of the proceeding, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced in an organizing resolution Monday evening.

The original resolution allotted each side 24 hours over the course of two days to deliver opening arguments, which would have meant that the days likely would have stretched into the early morning hours.

Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters early Tuesday that she didn't welcome 12-hour sessions.

"You have to be alert," Feinstein said. "Juries and trials have very limited periods of time. And there's a reason for that ... and that is because you have to have sustained concentration."

John Kennedy, R-La., brushed off what seemed likely to be a string of late-night sessions. "Most Americans work past 5:30. It'll be good for us," he said.

So did James Inhofe, R-Okla. "Doesn't bother me a bit," he said, "if I can stay awake."

The rules had been expected to keep the Senate in session until at least 1 a.m. ET each day this week — which would have meant that senators like Chris Coons, D-Del., whose proximity to the nation's capital generally gives him the luxury of traveling home every night, would have had to stay put.

"I'm here all week," Coons said early Tuesday. "I said goodbye to my wife this morning and said, 'I would be surprised if I'm home in the next two weeks'" — a situation he said he had never experienced during his decade in the Senate.

However, to the likely relief of many senators, it was announced when the trial opened at 1 p.m. that the time constraints for opening arguments would be loosened: Instead of using the 24 hours within two days, each side will now be allowed to use three days, as they were during the Senate trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999 — whose precedent, McConnell had originally said, would be followed for Trump's trial.

The shift came amid complaints by Democrats and concerns raised by Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, about the original resolution. Collins called the changes, which will also allow for evidence from the House impeachment inquiry to be admitted automatically, a "significant improvement," according to a spokeswoman, Annie Clark.

However, the change was expected to extend the trial. And even though senators may be able to go to bed earlier than they had anticipated, they still face marathon days in the Senate chamber.

Todd Young, R-Ind., was spotted doing mini-squats on the floor before the trial took off Tuesday. During the presentation by one of the House managers, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., McConnell appeared to nod off in the front row.

During one presentation — in which Lev Parnas' interview with Rachel Maddow of MSNBC was shown — Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., began laughing and writing something down. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was smiling from ear to ear, sitting up in his chair and looking at Republicans — a departure from his usual slump.

For the duration of the trial, all senators must be in their seats on the floor — and no one is allowed to have a cellphone or other electronic device on the floor. A magnetometer was installed outside the chamber's gallery, where the media can observe the floor, to ensure that electronics are kept outside.

A wooden cubby was set up outside the chamber for senators to stash their phones before entering. "Please place devices on SILENT before storing in cabinet," said a sign above the individual slots.

The rule could prove annoying for senators, most of whom typically are glued to their devices. Coons, however, called it a "needed digital cleanse."

"Many of my junior staff were concerned and alarmed: 'How will you make it?'" he said, recounting their comments. "And I reminded them that I made it through all of law school without a cellphone, without an iPad. We may actually be able to focus more."

Because senators will be sitting on the floor for hours until further notice, Pat Toomey, R-Pa., came prepared. He filled his desk with candy, the only food that's allowed on the floor under Senate rules.

For Toomey and others interested in sharing the limited refreshments, it could be against ethics rules to hand out free stuff on the floor unless it comes from a senator's home state. Pennsylvania, however, is rich with candy producers: The lineup for Toomey's desk included Hershey bars with almonds, Rolo caramels, Milky Way bars, 3 Musketeers bars, Palmer Peanut Butter Cups and Goldenberg's Peanut Chews, made by Just Born Quality Confections of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley.

And while coffee would come in handy to keep senators awake, only water — still or sparkling — is generally allowed on the floor. Senate Historian Betty K. Koed told NBC News that technically milk is allowed but that the practice in recent years has been to permit only water.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the Senate impeachment trial

Meanwhile, media restrictions greatly limiting reporters' access to senators had already gone into effect. Instead of being able to walk with senators for interviews, as they normally can, reporters who wanted to stand outside the chamber on the second floor were required to stand in small press pens in two areas and could speak only to senators who approached the roped-in areas.

The security measures prompted Schumer to say just before the trial began Tuesday that he would "vociferously oppose ... any attempt to begin the trial unless the reporters trying to enter the gallery are seated."

Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he was open to holding briefings during the trial with reporters, who he said were a "vital conduit" to ensuring that the proceedings are transparent.

Other senators weren't as eager to speak with reporters. Ahead of the trial, Tim Scott, R-S.C., began whistling audibly after a reporter asked whether he had read the trial briefings.

Murkowski, a moderate who could be one of the four Republican votes Democrats need to secure witness testimony and documents, was surrounded by a herd of reporters fighting to speak with her early Tuesday. After nearly losing her shoe in the scrum, Murkowski laid down the law: "I have one rule. Nobody takes my shoes off."

Reporters also surrounded Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who was asked how he could be impartial after Trump called him a "pompous ass" last year.

"That may be as accurate as it is irrelevant," said Romney, who added that he respected the "conservative principles" promoted by the president.

While many Democrats have blasted the actions that led to the president's impeachment, others had not ruled out voting to acquit him as the trial began.

"What I've said from the beginning that I haven't made any secret about is I think the president's conduct is worthy of removal, but I remain open to having my mind changed," Murphy said. "That's in part why I want to see witnesses and documents. If the president can present exculpatory evidence, I'm open to it."