Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Senate President pro tempore, is expected to chair the impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump when it formally begins Tuesday, in a role filled last year by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., aides and said other officials Monday.
The Constitution states that the Chief Justice of the United States presides over any impeachment proceedings against the President or Vice President. But it does not explicitly provide guidance on who should oversee the proceedings for others, including former presidents, and it appeared that Chief Justice Roberts was not interested in reassembling a time-consuming role that would directly involve him and the Supreme Court. the tough political battle for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, recently reclaimed President pro tempore's mantle – the position reserved for the longest-serving member of the majority party – when the Democrats took control of the Senate. Mr. Leahy, 80, has been in office since 1974.
The role was largely ceremonial in the first impeachment trial against Mr Trump a year ago. But as a presiding officer, Mr. Leahy can make statements on important questions about the admissibility of evidence and whether a trial against a former president is even allowed under the constitution. (Mr. Leahy is also expected to still have a say in the process, as do other senators.)
The job could also have gone to Vice President Kamala Harris, in her capacity as Senate President. But there were clear drawbacks to Ms. Harris in overseeing a proceeding that is likely to be divisive and will almost certainly be seen by some as an attempt by Democrats to use their newfound power to punish the leader of the rival political party.
Mr Leahy's presence on the podium could open Democrats to similar charges from the right, especially if he makes a controversial statement, but officials said there was no clear alternative without the Chief Justice. In a statement, Mr. Leahy that he would take his oath of trial "extremely seriously" to deliver "impartial justice."
“If I chair the impeachment process of former President Donald Trump, I will not deviate from my constitutional and sworn obligations to handle the trial fairly, in accordance with the constitution and laws,” he said.
Senate officials suggested Ms. Harris would still be able to step in to break a tie if the process ever gets stuck 50-50, as she can in the normal course of Senate affairs.
It would take two-thirds of the senate, 67 votes, to convict Mr. Trump, but if he were convicted, it would only take a simple majority to prevent him from re-taking office.
The Chief Justice declined to comment through a spokeswoman.