The final procedural requirements for the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump were met on Thursday afternoon when Chief Justice John Roberts was sworn in by Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Grassley. Roberts, who will preside over the impeachment trial, then swore in all 100 sitting senators. They will act as the trial’s jurors.
The two swearings-in come 114 days after House Democrats announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump’s alleged efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing investigations that could influence American politics in the 2020 election.
The trial will commence early next week and will end presumably sometime in February, with Trump either acquitted or removed from office. Since the chamber is controlled by Republicans, the former outcome is all but assured.
Roberts, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by George W. Bush, will be the first chief justice to preside over a presidential impeachment since William Rehnquist did so in the trial of Bill Clinton in 1999. Rehnquist later described his role in that affair with a quote from a Gilbert and Sullivan musical: “I did nothing in particular and did it very well.” An ardent institutionalist concerned with his court’s legacy, Roberts is widely expected to play a similarly subdued role.
Thursday saw legislators take several steps toward the beginning of a trial. In at least one instance, those steps were literal, as the seven impeachment House managers walked the articles of impeachment to the Senate, where they were formally received.
Security inside the northern half of the Capitol — that is, the Senate side — was extraordinarily tight, with uniformed police officers stationed every few feet on all four floors of the building. Reporters were barred from speaking with senators anywhere outside a few prescribed areas, a jarring deviation from the norm. Journalists are usually free to interact with legislators without almost any impediment.
The press restrictions were enacted by Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and were protested by the organization representing the congressional press corps, the Standing Committee of Correspondents.
By 12:05 p.m. ET, all senators were seated at their desks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood silently, waiting for the House managers to be announced. They entered shortly after that, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.
Schiff then proceeded to read the two articles. The Senate chamber was quiet as Schiff spoke, which he did for a full 15 minutes. Many Democratic senators busily scribbled notes. Most Republican senators sat still, listening. And whereas the House impeachment hearings were occasionally raucous — with legislators sometimes talking over each other, arguing, hectoring witnesses and gaveling opponents into submission — the presentation of the articles was a uniformly solemn affair.
After a lunch-hour break, the senators returned to their chamber for the swearing-in of Roberts, which took place at 2:09 p.m. All present rose as Roberts was escorted into the chamber by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., its ranking member; Pat Leahy, D-Vt.; and Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Roberts then approached the dais. “I am now prepared to take the office,” he said in his brief remarks. That oath was then administered by Grassley, the former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. Grassley enjoined Roberts to “do impartial justice.”
The two men then shook hands.
“God bless you,” Grassley could be heard saying.
“Thank you very much,” Roberts responded.
Assuming control of the chamber from Grassley, Roberts then swore in 99 members of the Senate, who all stood with their right hands raised, vowing in unison to uphold the principle of “impartial justice” that Roberts had avowed only moments before (one member, Jim Inhofe, was tending to an ill family member back home in Oklahoma).
Roberts then had the senators sign an oath book that committed that promise to paper. They did so in groups of four. There were no ceremonial pens, as there had been during the signing of the impeachment articles the day before. Instead, each senator took the same pen from Senate secretary Julie Adams and, after signing the oath book, returned the pen to her.
After all had signed, the Senate was adjourned. When legislators return on Tuesday afternoon, it will be for the beginning of Trump’s trial.
With additional reporting by Jon Ward.
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of Senators sworn in by Chief Justice Roberts. The correct number is 99, not 100.
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