(Headline USA) It was learned on Monday that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is not expected to preside at the impeachment trial of now-former President Donald Trump, potentially affecting the gravitas of the proceedings.
The shift is said to be in keeping with the U.S. Constitution, because Trump is no longer in office.
Instead, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D- Vt., who serves in the largely ceremonial role of Senate president pro-tempore, will preside.
“The president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents,” Leahy said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “When presiding over an impeachment trial, the president pro tempore takes an additional special oath to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws. It is an oath that I take extraordinarily seriously…
“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.”
Leahy already prejudged the outcome of Trump’s trial after the House voted to impeach on Jan. 13th:
President Trump has not simply failed to uphold his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, which itself would be sufficient to warrant his impeachment and removal. He has emerged as the greatest threat to the Constitution and to American democracy in a generation.
He sparked the flames of sedition and has fanned them relentlessly. For months he has lied about the election in an effort to undermine Americans’ faith in our democracy. He has promoted division, disruption, and violence. He has attempted to thwart our nation’s unbroken history of a constitutional and peaceful transfer of power. And he has incited and promoted a riot that laid siege to our Capitol building — the very heart of our democracy. Insurrectionists chanting his name viciously beat Capitol Police officers protecting the building. They called for the death of the Vice President, they temporarily delayed Congress from fulfilling our constitutional duty to certify the election of President-Elect Joe Biden, and they left a trail of destruction in their wake including the deaths of five people. President Trump bears responsibility for this attack. Even President Nixon understood he had to resign after his crimes were exposed, and this President’s crimes are far worse. The fact that he has disavowed any responsibility for the violent assault on our democracy makes clear that he is unworthy of public trust, unworthy of the office he holds, and must be removed.
Meanwhile, Republican senators are easing off their criticism of the former president and shunning calls to convict him over the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.
House Democrats were to carry the sole impeachment charge of “ incitement of insurrection ” across the Capitol late Monday, the prosecutors making the ceremonial walk to the Senate. But Republican denunciations of Trump have cooled since the Jan. 6 riot. Now Democrats are being confronted by a tangle of Republican legal arguments against the legitimacy of the trial and questions whether Trump’s repeated demands to overturn Joe Biden’s election, thanks to reams of evidence of vote fraud, really amounted to incitement.
What seemed for some Democrats like an open-shut case that played out for the world on live television, is running into a Republican Party that feels very differently. Not only are there legal concerns, but senators are wary of crossing the former president and his legions of followers who are their voters.
“I think the trial is stupid, I think it’s counterproductive,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
He said that “the first chance I get to vote to end this trial, I’ll do it” because he believes it would be bad for the country and further inflame partisan divisions.
Arguments in the Senate trial will begin the week of Feb. 8, and the case against Trump, the first former president to face impeachment trial, will test a political party still sorting itself out for the post-Trump era. Republican senators are balancing the demands of deep-pocketed donors who are distancing themselves from Trump and voters who demand loyalty to him.
One Republican, establishment Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, announced Monday he would not seek reelection in 2022 citing the polarized political atmosphere. He would likely face a primary challenge from a more ardent supporter of Trump.
For Democrats the tone, tenor and length of the upcoming trial, so early in Biden’s presidency, poses its own challenge, forcing them to strike a balance between their vow to hold Trump accountable and their eagerness to deliver on the new administration’s priorities following their sweep of control of the House, Senate and White House.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.