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Inside the chamber: A mostly somber mood as senators take impeachment oath

Senate receives articles of impeachment

Washington — The mood in the Senate was subdued on Thursday as senators took the oath promising to be impartial jurors in the impeachment trial, although scattered conversations and laughter punctuated the silence from the Republican side.

Senators chatted and joked quietly as they filed into the chamber and took their seats before the arrival of Chief Justice John Roberts at 2 p.m., Senator Lindsey Graham smiling and winking at an unseen colleague. The clerk called a roll call of all 99 senators present; Senator Jim Inhofe is home in Oklahoma with a family member facing a medical issue.

A bipartisan group of senators — Republicans Graham and Roy Blunt and Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy — escorted Roberts into the chamber. Roberts wore a plain black robe, unlike his predecessor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who famously wore four gold stripes on each sleeve of his robe for the Clinton impeachment.

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When Roberts entered the chamber, everyone on the Senate floor and the visitors gallery stood immediately, the atmosphere in the room quickly becoming somber. Reporters also stood, although rather hesitantly, and did so after many furtive glances to their colleagues to ensure that everyone was doing the same thing. Everyone, reporters included, remained standing until Roberts administered the oath to the senators.

After Roberts was sworn in by Senator Chuck Grassley, the longest-serving senator in the majority, he administered the oath for the senators. The senators were then brought to the front to sign the book containing the impeachment oath in groups of four. 

During this procession, the senators remained mostly quiet, with only a few scattered conversations. Senator Cory Booker, the Democrat  who recently dropped out of the presidential race, shook hands with Republicans Grassley and Senator John Thune as he passed them. Several senators, like Senators Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown, took notes.

One row of senators frequently broke what was otherwise a universal silence. In the back row on the far right of the Republican side of the chamber, Senators Tim Scott, Rob Portman and Ben Sasse were chatting throughout, often laughing. Senators Bill Cassidy and David Perdue also engaged in an extended conversation, sometimes with Sasse joining in, and laughed regularly. At one point, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin stopped by and said something to Scott, Portman and Sasse, who all laughed in response. Senators will not be allowed to speak during the impeachment trial itself.

Senator Ted Cruz sat at the far end of the row and didn't participate in any conversations, choosing instead to read a Senate manual. 

The fashion of the senators was almost as muted as the proceedings. In one exception, Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who is known for wearing bright colors, characteristically sported a bright red dress with cape sleeves and matching red shoes.

After the senators had signed the oath, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the trial would resume at 1:00 pm on Tuesday. As the gavel fell, proclaiming the Senate in recess after the 34-minute proceeding, the senators seemed to share a collective sigh of relief. The first part of the impeachment proceeding in the Senate is over, and the senators have four full days to regroup until the trial will begin. 

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