The Senate impeachment trial of President Trump has only been going on for about a week and a half at this point, though it feels like it's been much longer. I mean, Twitter has collectively decided that January 2020 is the longest month of the year. On top of that, the impeachment process is just inherently messy and convoluted, and this one is particularly chaotic. We have senators drinking milk in chambers, an alleged candy drawer, reports of top officials falling asleep during opening arguments, and now, note-passing?
On Wednesday, senators that quietly sat through days of arguments from the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team finally got their chance to speak up. Well, kind of. In the Q&A portion of the trial, senators were permitted to ask questions from each side, but this process, much like the rest of the impeachment, came with a fun twist.
You see, an impeachment Q&A isn’t your typical Q&A. The people asking the questions — aka the senators — have to do so through good ol’ fashioned pen and paper. Here’s how it works: The senator says they have a question and who the question is for. In some cases, it’s for both sides. In other cases, it’s for either the House managers or Trump’s defense team. They then have to write that question on a slip of paper that will be passed down to the Senate floor, where Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, will read it out loud. Whoever is supposed to answer the question then goes up to the microphone to respond.
This archaic method might be a somewhat charming, novel throwback for, say, a couple minutes. But for hours on end? That’s when you realize that this portion of the impeachment process feels like a cross between a spelling bee and a pageant. But the note-passing scenes did make for grade A entertainment — and late night hosts were quick to pick up on the clear fodder withe their comebacks in tow.
“No wonder this thing takes 16 hours,” Trevor Noah said on The Daily Show. “The senators are communicating through note-passing like they’re back in middle school. That’s what that was. ‘Senator McConnell has a question for Adam Schiff: Will you go to the dance with Sheila? Yes, no, maybe.’”
Noah also made the very fair point that if senators must write their questions and the chief justice must read them aloud, he could consider doing so with a little more zest: “If the senators have a question, why not let them ask the question? Or if chief justice is going to have to read it out, then he should at least have to do an impression of the senator who asked the question. Then it makes it fun.”
We’re not likely to get any impersonations from the chief justice during the trial. But fortunately, we can find some comedic relief from all this impeachment chaos just by tuning into late night TV.