Senate Democrats said Wednesday they would be willing to turn over key legal decisions in the impeachment trial to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. — but the president’s team said it wouldn’t agree, saying it’s not how the Constitution envisioned things.
Chief Justice Roberts is presiding over the trial, as per the founding document, but his role is heavy scripted and predetermined by the rules.
Democrats — who in other contexts have been brutally critical of him — are trying to expand his role in this trial, figuring it’s the best way for them to try to win their demand for the Senate to hear witnesses.
They figure that agreeing to let the chief justice rule on issues could speed up a trial, which would undercut Republicans’ argument that hearing witnesses would paralyze the Senate for months as it battles against claims of privilege and other legal blockades President Trump might raise.
But Jay Sekulow, the president’s personal lawyer and part of his defense team, said Democrats’ offer would amount to the Senate surrendering its own powers.
He said senators, under the Constitution, control the impeachment trial, and it makes no sense to give up those powers.
“We are not willing to do that,” Mr. Sekulow said.
Senators have debated what role the chief justice might play as the trial drags on, such as whether he might break a tie.
That role is usually reserved for the vice president, but he has too much of an interest in the outcome of an impeachment, so the Constitution has the chief justice preside instead. The document does not say whether he fulfills the role of tie-breaking.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said on his new podcast “The Verdict” that the rules of debate for the trial are ambiguous as well.
Republicans say their goal is to prevent that by having a 51-vote majority for whatever they want to do.
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