In Brief

Why senators drink milk during an impeachment trial

The wholesome tradition dates back to 1966

Amid all the drama of Donald Trump’s ongoing impeachment trial, a strange tradition among the attendees is also attracting attention. 

Senator Tom Cotton has been seen sipping milk during this week’s hearing in Congress, with his fellow Republican senators Richard Burr and Ted Cruz also following suit.

So just why is milk the drink of choice at the trial?

How did the milk tradition begin?

According to Business Insider, Senate rules prohibit food and drink on the floor, with the only exceptions being water, milk and confectionary. 

Milk is allowed under a convention dating back to 1966, when Republican senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois got thirsty during a long debate.

Putting aside his notes on labour laws, Dirksen turned to the presiding officer and in “his signature brawny bass voice” asked if a Senate employee could “fetch him a generous helping of milk”, reports Washington D.C.-based news site NPR.

The presiding officer replied that there “nothing in the rules to prohibit the Senator from requesting a glass of milk” - a verdict that heralded the birth of the rule: “Milk while speaking.”

The rule is even written into Riddick’s Senate Procedure, a document setting out the precedents and practices of the upper chamber. 

However, while senators welcome that drinks option, some admit they might prefer something a little strong. Republican Cotton said this week that he would have prefered to add vodka to his milk, to make a White Russian cocktail, but that the Democrats “probably would’ve accused me of collusion”.

And why is confectionary also allowed?

Business Insider says that while food is not allowed, “an exception has long been granted to the so-called ‘candy desk’”. 

This tradition dates back to 1965, when Republican senator George Murphy began keeping a stash of confectionary in a desk on his party’s side of the Senate floor.

“Murphy shared the candy with his colleagues, and subsequent senators have carried on the tradition,” says the news site.

Patrick J. Toomey, the junior Republican senator for Pennsylvania, is now responsible for stocking the candy desk, which is open to Republicans, Democrats and independents, The New York Times reports. 

During the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1999, the role of keeper of the candy was held by another Pennsylvania Republican, Rick Santorum.

During that trial, Santorum explained why senators need sugar hits, and revealed his weakness for chocolate mints. “I’m York Peppermint Patty guy. That’s always been my favorite,” he told reporters. 

“It’s actually a very important part of keeping senators awake during these long hours of testimony. Having a little energy boost as you’re sitting there at the desk is sometimes a good thing.”

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