Like ‘root canal,’ but worse: US Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland navigates unusual day as Senate meets on impeachment

WASHINGTON — Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin parked his Buick sedan in the Hart Senate Office Building garage, tucked a notebook stuffed with legal briefs and handwritten notes under one arm, and headed into a day he likened to a root canal.

But worse.


“You never want to go through an impeachment trial,” the third-term Democrat said. “I’ve had a root canal and I must tell you that process was not that unpleasant. This is unpleasant.”

The impeachment trial of Republican President Donald Trump began in earnest Tuesday in the U.S. Senate with a debate over the trial’s rules.


Cardin, 76, a white-haired lawyer, said he spent hours over the Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend at his Pikesville home constructing a timeline of impeachment-related events and scrawling notes onto a legal pad in tiny cursive.

Like many Democrats, Cardin said he considers the trial a necessity based on Trump’s conduct.

“Impeachment is a Constitutional process that we have to follow,” he said.

Republicans counter that Democrats have manufactured a case against the president to undo the results of the 2016 presidential election.

While his staff helped him prepare, Cardin said he wrote his outlines because “that’s what I’m trained to do. This is how I went through law school.”

As the trial proceeds, the senator said he plans to tote his legal pad each day onto the Senate floor, where cell phones and other electronic devices aren’t permitted. During normal business, senators routinely skirt the no-electronics rule, checking emails and texts. “It’s violated by only about 100 senators,” Cardin joked. Now, with so many people watching the impeachment trial, Senate leaders have put members on notice to leave the electronic communication for later.

During Tuesday’s proceedings, Cardin, wearing a dark suit, sat at his wooden desk in the crowded chamber next to Vermont Democrat Bernie Sanders, a presidential candidate. The Marylander frequently jotted notes onto his pad.

The impeachment articles allege Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress. He is accused of withholding security aid to Ukraine — and the prospect of a state visit to Washington by Ukraine’s president — to pressure its government to announce an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was on the board of a gas company in Ukraine.


Only three presidents have been impeached in the House — Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and now Trump. Both Johnson and Clinton were acquitted in the Senate, something Trump hopes to achieve. The historic nature of the trial was evident Tuesday in the number of spectators who crowded into the viewing galleries and the swarms of reporters in the Capitol corridors.

After media members were screened, as usual, entering the Capitol, they were asked to pass through a second metal detector before entering the press gallery above the Senate floor. In addition to a media credential regularly issued once a year, a second credential was required Tuesday for journalists walking the Senate corridors.

And even when he might have expected to, Cardin found it challenging to escape impeachment talk. He began Tuesday morning at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, where Myrna Edelman Cardin — his wife of 55 years — underwent routine cataract surgery.

“In the waiting room, I did get into four or five discussions about the impeachment trial,” he said. “They wanted to know why I was there. They were worried.”

Some of the people he encountered expressed pro-impeachment views, Cardin said.

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While the senators were captive to the trial’s schedule, Cardin assured his wife he would check on her during the day.


“I’ll be able to call you during breaks,” he told her on the phone during a stop at his “hideaway,” a dormitory-sized room near the Senate floor. Senators are assigned hideaways so they can work privately without walking back to their offices. Because he is a relatively senior member, Cardin’s hideaway — which contains a couch, table and flat-screen television — possesses a stunning view of the Washington Monument.

Cardin left the hideaway in the early afternoon to head to the trial. While he said he considers the allegations against Trump serious and troubling, he believes all senators should be impartial while weighing the evidence. He said he hopes Senate Republicans will agree to including witnesses and documents that he believes should be part of the record.

Like many Democrats, Cardin has grown increasingly frustrated with the Republican-led Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declined to bring up hundreds of House-passed bills that he disagrees with.

Trump and other Republicans counter that Democrats have become consumed with removing Trump and that the American people consider impeachment a partisan political exercise.

“The Do Nothing Dems have done great harm to our country!" Trump tweeted Monday.

“You talk about being consumed by impeachment?” Cardin said. “Last year, we didn’t have impeachment and we were consumed with — I don’t know what. We didn’t get anything done because the majority leader just didn’t want to bring any substantive issues to the floor of the Senate.”