Senators are sworn in on Tuesday in an impeachment trial against former President Donald Trump.
The process itself will begin no earlier than 8 February. Democratic and Republican leaders have agreed to a short reprieve to allow time for preparation for both legislators who will serve as prosecutors and Trump’s defense team. The extra time will also give the Senate an opportunity to approve more candidates for President Joe Biden’s cabinet.
Members of the House of Representatives, who will serve as prosecutors, turned up at the Senate Hall on Monday night to hand over an impeachment clause, which accused Trump of inciting mutiny in the wake of his mob storming the Capitol earlier this month.
The chief impeachment manager, Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, read out the accusations, saying Trump “endangered the security of the United States and its government institutions.”
Trump’s defenders will be led by ethics and election lawyer Butch Bowers and former federal prosecutor Deborah Barbier, who specializes in defending malfeasances.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who plays a predominantly ceremonial role as interim President of the Senate, said Monday that he will preside over the impeachment process. The U.S. Constitution requires the Chief Justice to preside over a presidential impeachment hearing, but with Trump no longer in power, officials have said Chief Justice John Roberts will not fill that role.
Leahy, 80, was first elected to the Senate in 1974 and has been the longest serving senator. Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, he said that years of experience in the Senate will help him maintain the appearance of an impartial judge.
Leahy’s aides said he would still be able to vote in the impeachment proceedings. Republican Senator John Cornin on Twitter criticized this arrangement, saying, “How can a Senator preside as a judge and serve as a jury at the same time?”
Kornin also suggested that Trump had already been punished by losing the election. This is an argument put forward by many Republicans opposing the trial.
Republican Senator Joni Ernst said that while Trump “has demonstrated weak leadership,” its members are responsible for the attack on the Capitol.
Senate Majority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer said the Senate would conduct a “timely and fair trial.” He dismissed Republican objections, saying the trial was “unconditionally and obviously constitutional.”
“The only question we have before us,” he said, “is former President Trump guilty of inciting rebellion against the United States?”
Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley tweeted: “This is the most serious crime against the Constitution imaginable … We must take this matter with utmost seriousness and proceed accordingly.”
A conviction requires a two-thirds vote of the senators. Since the Senate seats are equally divided between the two parties, the conviction should be supported by all Democrats and 17 Republicans.
President Joe Biden, speaking Monday on CNN, said he believed the verdict was unlikely to be supported by enough Republicans. However, he noted that the proceedings “should take place” and that otherwise “the effect would have been worse.”