Why Senators Are Drinking Milk At the Impeachment Trial

Among the odd Senate rules is that milk is the only beverage other than water allowed on the Senate floor.
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The history behind the wacky rules senators follow during an impeachment trial.

The impeachment trial against President Donald Trump is forcing lawmakers to remain for hours on end within the Senate chamber, where strict guidelines have set the decorum for centuries.

During an impeachment trial, there is an extra set of rules, which were put in place to keep Senators, acting as ad hoc jurors, focused on the task at hand.

With the third day of the trial underway, here is a look at a few of the rules and how lawmakers are adhering to them.

No Talking, "On Pain of Imprisonment"

At the start of each day, the sergeant-at-arms declares a ban on talking, yelling: “Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment.”

The proclamation dates back to the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868, and it’s mostly symbolic. No one has ever been jailed for breaking it.

Early on, lawmakers were mostly adhering to the talking ban. But by midnight Wednesday, some Senators were seen pacing and chatting near the walls, according to the Associated Press.

Then, a heated exchange between Democratic prosecutors and Trump’s defense team prompted Chief Justice John Roberts to admonish those gathered in the chamber and remind them the Senate was functioning as a court of impeachment.

Passing Time Without Cell Phones

The Senate already bans cellphones on the chamber floor, but the rule has become more relaxed recently, lawmakers told the AP.

Some said strict enforcement during the impeachment proceedings forces them to take a much-needed break. 

“As much as I hate it, not being connected to a device, I just think we need to pay attention,” Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa told the AP.

Other lawmakers found different ways to pass the time. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was reportedly seen filling out a crossword puzzle and making a paper airplane during the proceedings. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren was playing a game on paper, ABC News reported. Several had trouble keeping their eyes open. 

Got Milk?

Another odd Senate rule: milk is the only beverage other than water allowed on the Senate floor. 

This one dates back to 1966, when Sen. Everett Dirksen asked a page to get him a glass of milk, but not before asking the presiding officer whether he was allowed to.

“There is nothing in the rules to prohibit the Senator from requesting a glass of milk," replied the presiding officer.

The proclamation was entered into the official record: “Senate rules do not prohibit a Senator from sipping milk during his speech.”

The rule technically applies all the time, but it has become a tradition for Senators to sip on the beverage particularly during impeachment trials. 

Tom Cotton of Arkansas was the first to drink milk during Trump’s trial, NPR reported, followed by Sens. Richard Burr and Ted Cruz.