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Will Kamala Harris, Patrick Leahy Have a Vote in Trump’s Impeachment Trial?

Last updated on February 8, 2021 8:20 am

BY MATTHEW IMPELLI

Ahead of former President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, many have questioned if Vice President Kamala Harris will have a vote during the trial.

Trump was impeached by the House for “incitement of insurrection” as many believed that he sparked the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol when his supporters breached the building in protest of Congress certifying President Joe Biden’s victory.

As the vice president, Harris is empowered by the Constitution to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate.

“The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided,” Article I, section 3, clause 4 of the Constitution states.

The Constitution also states that the Supreme Court Chief Justice will preside over the Senate when a president is tried.

The Constitution does not explicitly outline who should preside over an impeachment trial for a former president. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a previous interview with MSNBC that Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t want to preside over a trial of a former president, which left the responsibility up to Senator Patrick Leahy, the president pro tempore of the Senate.

Leahy became the president pro tempore of the Senate after Democrats took control of the Senate in January.

“The president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents. When presiding over an impeachment trial, the president pro tempore takes an additional special oath to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws. It is an oath that I take extraordinarily seriously,” Leahy wrote in a statement on January 25.

According to the New York Times, Leahy is expected to have a vote in the trial, like other Senators.

When asked if Harris will have a vote in the impeachment trial, Frank O. Bowman III, a professor of law at the University of Missouri and an expert on the impeachment of the president and other federal officers, told Newsweek that the short answer is “no.”

“If she were to assume her role as President of the Senate, she would preside over the trial in Justice Roberts’ absence and rule on procedural and evidentiary questions. But even then, her rulings (like those of Sen. Leahy who will preside) can be overridden by a majority of the Senate,” Bowman III told Newsweek. “Whether the chair would be able to cast a tie-breaking vote on a procedural question was discussed prior to the last impeachment, but a question didn’t arise.”

“But in any case, it’s all moot since she is not, so far as anyone has been told, going to preside,” he added.

On the other hand, James Wallner, a professorial lecturer in the Department of Government at American University, told Newsweek that if Harris did decide to preside over the trial she would have the power to cast a tie-breaking vote.

“It’s clear that the vice president can cast tie-breaking votes in all other instances when the vice president presides,” Wallner told Newsweek.

“The only time the vice president doesn’t preside in impeachment trials is when the president is being tried, but Donald Trump is not the president which means that Kamala Harris can preside if she so chooses, and if she’s presiding over the trial and there’s a tied vote, then she could cast a vote.”

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