the facts

Are Senators Truly Allowed to Drink Milk on the Floor?

Photo: TOBY TALBOT/Associated Press

Impeachment is upon us, and this is the singular question on the minds of hardworking Americans watching Donald Trump’s trial unfold on Capitol Hill this week: Can they drink milk there? They, being the senators who will possibly be doing the impeaching, and there, being the floor of the Senate, where, disturbingly, it has been said that members may drink only water … or milk.

The news made the rounds today after senators were yet again reminded of the rules governing their behavior while on the Senate floor, which will be under intense scrutiny during impeachment proceedings. In addition to whether or not they can have electronics (no) and where they can store their belongings (a cubby), they were told that a glass of water or milk is allowed should they become parched.

Immediately our minds were racing: Whole milk? Two percent? What about nondairy milk? Nut? Oat? Strawberry or chocolate, surely, is not allowed if coffee or soda is prohibited, but who is to say when the rules are so strange as to allow just water, but also cow product? The detail inspired more questions than it answered, and the Cut was determined to find out the truth.

Here’s where we are, as most things unfold in this complicated world: Yes, and no. Yes, the permissibility of milk was added to the official rules after 1966, when Senator Everett Dirksen requested that a senate page go get him “a tall glass of milk” for lunch while on the floor. Now, because of this milk-loving man, “Milk While Speaking” is a subhead in the rule book.

I shudder to think of what legislative proceedings would look like if this rule were truly abided. Would we be accustomed to lawmakers sipping gently from tall glasses of frothy white milk while listening to their peers make impassioned appeals, toasting each other with the wet, white stuff and leaving once their votes have been cast with haunting milk mustaches? Would we see them giving CNN interviews from the rotunda, wiping milk from their moist upper lips? God bless these United States that this is not the case. And that seems to be because smart patriots decided to reject the Milk Rule.

Per sources in the Senate historian’s office, it’s really the cloakrooms on both the Republican and Democratic sides of the Senate who fulfill members’ requests for beverages, and the staff of those offices has in recent years only allowed water on the floor. Sparkling water has also been approved. The Democratic cloakroom declined to comment to the Cut; New York’s Olivia Nuzzi and Ben Jacobs received confirmation that “Senate practice does not specify whether nondairy milk, in addition to dairy milk, is permitted on the Senate floor.” But our reporting would lead us to say that it is likely that senators cannot actually drink their milk, even if they are technically permitted.

That does not mean, however, that the milk rule has been tested. Senator Cory Booker, for instance, a noted vegan, who probably drinks several types of nut and oat milks and mylks, could try requesting some during impeachment proceedings and demand that the rule be amended to include his nondairy health milks. But he is perhaps busy.

Until then, we can rest — though not easily, because at literally any moment a senator could technically attempt to publicly drink milk, on television, paid for by our tax dollars.

UPDATE, 1/22/20, 4:22 p.m.: It gives me no pleasure to report that it appears Republican senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has been seen “downing” a glass of milk — I repeat, milk — on the floor by multiple witnesses on the scene.

It would appear that cloakroom staff, at least on the Republican side, is acquiescing to requests for milk, though exactly what kind of milk Cotton chugged is still up in the air.

Are Senators Truly Allowed to Drink Milk on the Floor?