As heated as things can sometimes get in Washington, one thing that it seems both sides can agree on is that the Apple Watch is a pretty handy accessory.
Reports surfaced yesterday that U.S. Senators from both parties were seen wearing Apple Watches at the start of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, apparently in violation of the House’s rules of decorum, which state that Senators can’t use phones or electronic devices in the chamber during proceedings of this nature.
According to Roll Call at least seven U.S. Senators and one aide were seen wearing various versions of Apple’s wearable, including Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah, John Thune of South Dakota, Jerry Moran of Kansas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, John Cornyn of Texas, and Tim Scott of South Carolina. Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington was also seen sporting an Apple Watch, as was the aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — one of the Senators who wrote the no electronics rule in the first place.
Meanwhile, other Senators who are known to own Apple Watches, such as Democrat Senator Mark Warner, couldn’t be seen wearing them, so it’s unclear if they left them behind in the cloakroom along with their iPhones or if they were wearing them on the floor.
It’s also unclear whether the Senators in question simply forgot to remove their watches or actually think that the restrictions don’t apply to the wearable, since it may not be perceived to be in the same category as a mobile phone, and the rules of course wouldn’t preclude normal watches from being worn, making this another area in which procedures haven’t always caught up with technology.
While older versions of the Apple Watch aren’t especially useful without a nearby iPhone, newer versions can of course include cellular capabilities, which would allow Senators to place calls or send and receive texts from the Senate floor. This could also be possible with non-cellular models, since they can automatically connect to any Wi-Fi access points that have been associated with their paired iPhones, which seems likely to be the case if Wi-Fi is available within the Senate chambers.
Roll Call doesn’t explain the reasons for the rule prohibiting electronic devices, nor do the official decorum guidelines, which simply state that all such devices should be left in the cloakroom, but it’s presumably to help Senators focus on the serious matter at hand free from distractions.
No use of phones or electronic devices will be allowed in the Chamber. All electronics should be left in the Cloakroom in the storage provided.Decorum Guidelines for Senate Trial (via CNN)
With the proliferation of electronic devices, Senators have become accustomed to checking their email or text messages during normal everyday proceedings, and while some have suggested frustration will build since the proceedings will limit the ability to get anything else done, lawmakers believe that the ban on electronics should help create a more focused environment.
A ‘Refreshing’ Change
The guidelines, which were jointly released by Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also say that Senators must refrain from speaking while the case is being presented, which has met with mixed responses, with some Senators suggesting that it’s “going to suck,” while others suggest that it will likely be a good thing.
I’m glad that we can put these devices down, I’m glad we will be sitting in our chairs, I’m glad that we are going to be focused on what’s in front of us at that time. I think it’s important, it’s beautifully old fashion, and I think we should stick to it.Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
According to CNN, however, many Senators are actually looking forward to the ability to “disconnect and unplug,” with some calling it “a real plus” and a “refreshing” change as they won’t have to be bothered by their phones going off every five minutes.
How the Apple Watch is going to factor into this remains to be seen, but Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer warned lawmakers weeks before the start of the trial that electronics wouldn’t be allowed, and that “it will be strictly enforced.” The U.S. Supreme Court specifically prohibits Apple Watches from being worn inside its courtrooms, and while the U.S. Senate isn’t required to follow the same rules, it would be typical for them to take the Supreme Court’s lead in a situation like this, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Apple Watches disappear from Senator’s wrists in the coming days.