As the Senate prepares to conduct an impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump, Republicans are criticizing the procedural development — that Chief Justice John Roberts will not preside over the trial.
Instead, Senate President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will preside over the trial. Leahy, the most senior Democrat in the chamber, announced Monday he will hold the gavel and pledged to deliver "impartial justice."
"The president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents. When presiding over an impeachment trial, the president pro tempore takes an additional special oath to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and its laws. It is an oath that I take extraordinarily seriously," Leahy said.
"I consider holding the office of the president pro tempore and the responsibilities that come with it to be one of the highest honors and most serious responsibilities of my career. When I preside over the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, I will not waver from my constitutional and sworn obligations to administer the trial with fairness, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws."
When presiding over an impeachment trial, the president pro tempore takes a special oath to do impartial justice ac… https://t.co/Sx6hGfzQ2Y— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@Sen. Patrick Leahy)1611605506.0
The Hill reports that the procedures for the trial are currently being negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
"Leaders have been negotiating all process issues about the trial, and all along we have deferred to them for any announcements about this and all other process matters," a spokesman for Leahy told The Hill.
Several Republican senators have spoken out against the decision to have Leahy preside, given that he's previously voted to convict Trump the first time the Senate impeached the former president. Some have raised constitutional objections.
"There's only one constitutional process for impeachment and it is of the president, not a president," said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). "It requires the chief justice to preside."
Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 of the U.S. Constitution states:
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Leahy's statement explains there is historical precedent for having the Senate president pro tempore preside over impeachment trials as a "neutral arbiter" for impeachment cases that do not involve a U.S. president. Because Trump is no longer the president, the logic goes that Chief Justice Roberts is not lawfully obligated to preside over the trial. And because what the Senate is doing is unprecedented, there's plenty of room for the Senate to interpret its own rules.
However, that does not preclude Republicans from complaining. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told The Hill that having Leahy preside over the trial "really undermines the legitimacy."
"The Constitution requires that the chief justice preside over the impeachment trial of a president but that's not what we're doing. To me that's indicative of the fact that we're in uncharted waters," he said.
"I just think it looks very petty and vindictive and I understand there are a lot of people who are mad but the process itself already looks like a railroad job," Cornyn added.
"If the chief justice doesn't preside, I think it's an illegitimate hearing and really goes to show that it's not really constitutional to impeach someone who's not president," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
Leahy defended his role in the process, claiming that it's not his job to present evidence for or against Trump but to simply ensure that procedures are followed and that the trial is civil.
"I have presided over hundreds of hours in my time in the Senate. I don't think anybody has ever suggested I was anything but impartial in those hundreds of hours," Leahy said.
"I don't think there's any senator who over the 40-plus years I've been here that would say that I am anything but impartial in voting on procedure."