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story.lead_photo.caption A Capitol employee on Thursday sets up numbered cubicles to store the electronic devices of lawmakers who attend the Senate impeachment trial as part of a physical makeover of Senate space, including new quarters for the chief justice. (The New York Times/Erin Schaff)

WASHINGTON -- Twenty-one years ago, Capitol Hill carpenters custom-designed and built a pair of curved tables that could fit in the cramped Senate chamber and serve as work space for the House managers and White House lawyers during the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton.

Now, after sitting in storage for more than two decades, preserved as historical artifacts that might never be used again, the tables are being dusted off and moved to the Senate floor, part of a physical transformation inside the majestic chamber as it is converted from a place where legislation is debated to a one-of-a-kind courtroom where the fate of a president is decided.

"They made them after the impeachment articles were voted on," James Ziglar, the former Senate sergeant-at-arms, said of the tables. Ziglar was in charge of the logistics for the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999.

Over the next few days, the oversize tables will again be wedged between the front row of the senators' wood desks and the marble-and-polished-wood Senate rostrum so they are ready next week for the start of oral arguments in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

It is just one of a host of subtle changes being made in the Capitol to accommodate the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.

On Thursday, the senators voted unanimously to allow the sergeant-at-arms to "install appropriate equipment and furniture in the Senate chamber" -- with the proviso that the furnishings "shall be placed in the chamber in a manner that provides the least practicable disruption to Senate proceedings."

Because smartphones, tablets and other electronic gadgets are expressly forbidden when the trial is in session, senators will be required to leave them behind.

To accommodate them, Capitol carpenters have installed a cabinet of cubbyholes, complete with charging cables, in the cloakrooms just outside the Senate floor. As senators enter the chamber each day, they will be able to drop off iPhones or iPads in their assigned compartments.

Additional cubbies have been stationed outside the Senate doors for visiting House members to drop off their electronics. Chairs and desks are being moved into the back of the chamber for aides, who will not be permitted to stand during the trial, as aides normally do when they congregate there during legislative debates.

While the senators may not use laptop computers in the chamber during the trial, the chief justice is permitted to have one, and the teams of House managers and White House lawyers can each have two.

Senators also authorized the installation of video monitors and other multimedia equipment, if requested by House managers or White House lawyers. In 1999, both sides used large flat-screen monitors to play video clips during their arguments.

And if the Senate hears from witnesses during the trial, the carpenters will be ready. Senators agreed to add "a witness table and chair if required."

The addition of the new furniture is turning what is already a surprisingly small chamber into an even more cramped space for senators, the chief justice, a variety of aides and the two opposing impeachment teams. In some places, the president's lawyers and the House managers will be seated mere inches from the senators who will serve as jurors.

Impeachment also reshuffles the grand spaces outside the Senate chamber, upending the lay of the land in a body where prime real estate is allocated according to seniority.

During the trial, the President's Room, one of the Senate's most ornate, will become an office for Chief Justice John Roberts, the presiding officer. Chief Justice William Rehnquist worked out of the same room, just outside a set of doors to the Senate chamber that are inaccessible to the public and the news media, during Clinton's trial.

The House impeachment managers will lay claim to coveted office space just off the Senate floor, taking over a room that belongs to the Committee on Rules and Administration. The vice president's office, normally in use on days when he is in the Senate for meetings or to preside over a debate and cast a tiebreaking vote, will be turned over instead to Trump's defense team.

Inside the chamber at the custom tables, the House managers will sit at the table to the right of the chief justice, in front of the Democratic senators. The White House lawyers will sit to Roberts' left, in front of the Republicans.

During Clinton's trial, that tradition caused some consternation for Republican House managers, who complained about being seated so close to the president's allies. White House lawyers likewise griped about having to defend Clinton while sitting next to Republican senators.

Workers deliver custom-built tables to the Senate on Thursday for use during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. The tables, designed to fit in the cramped Senate chamber, were made by Capitol Hill carpenters more than two decades ago when then-President Bill Clinton faced trial. (The New York Times/Erin Schaff)

A Section on 01/18/2020

Print Headline: Tables from Clinton's trial go back into service


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