WASHINGTON ― Senators and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts were sworn in on Thursday as the upper chamber gets ready to begin the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump ― the third involving a president in American history.
The largely ceremonial, made-for-TV moment marks the official start of the trial, which will begin in earnest Tuesday with opening arguments from the House prosecutors, followed by a response from the president’s defense team.
The House Democrats serving as managers for the trial entered the Senate chambers around noon to formally deliver the articles of impeachment, which were then read by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Senators sat in their seats stone-faced and listened; some jotted notes on pads of paper.
Soon after 2 p.m., Roberts, who will preside over the proceedings over the next several weeks, entered the chamber, escorted by two senators from each party: Republicans Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) along with Democrats Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.). He was then sworn in by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the president pro tempore of the Senate.
“God bless you,” Grassley told Roberts after he took the oath.
Next, Roberts administered an oath to senators, who serve as jurors in the trial. They stood, raised their right hands and vowed under oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution.” Each senator then signed the oath book at the front of the room. (One senator, Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, missed the proceedings due to a family issue but will be sworn in next week.)
“The feeling in the Senate chamber was solemn, serious, and profound,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters afterward, adding that the “eyes of history” are upon the chamber.
The House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump in December for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his dealings with Ukraine. The president withheld funds approved by Congress from the country and asked its president to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential 2020 rival. Trump then blocked Congress from seeing documents and relevant witnesses from testifying about what happened.
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), a vocal supporter of impeachment since Trump was first elected, sat in the Senate chamber to witness the proceedings.
The White House has said Trump did nothing wrong, and most Republican lawmakers ― even those now serving as jurors ― have defended him. Trump, meanwhile, responded on Twitter by reiterating that his July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s leader that set off the impeachment inquiry had been “perfect.”
During the trial, all senators will be prohibited from speaking and may only submit questions in writing to the chief justice, according to the Senate’s rules. All electronics are forbidden on the floor; senators will be required to leave their phones in a cubby outside the chamber floor. The proceedings will run six days a week, except Sundays, with each day taken up by at least 5 hours of the trial.
While Democrats have called for fact witnesses during the trial, Republicans have resisted committing to their inclusion, arguing that senators should make a decision on witness testimony after the presentation of evidence.
Schumer said Thursday that he may force votes next week as the trial opens on witnesses if a rules resolution authored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) does not allow for them. McConnell has not unveiled that resolution, which lays out the procedures governing the trial, but he is expected to do so next week.