Leahy, Set to Preside Over Trump Senate Trial, Taken to Hospital

The 80-year-old Democrat started feeling sick in his Capitol offices late Tuesday.  

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., walks with reporters as he leaves the Senate floor on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Patrick Leahy, the Senate’s president pro tempore who is set to preside over former President Trump’s second impeachment trial, was hospitalized Tuesday night after he began feeling ill in his office.

A spokesperson for the 80-year-old Vermont Democrat confirmed the hospitalization in a statement late Tuesday.

“He was examined in the Capitol by the attending physician,” spokesman David Carle said. “Out of an abundance of caution, the attending physician recommended that he be taken to a local hospital for observation, where he is now and where he is being evaluated.”

Leahy is one of the Senate’s most senior members behind Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Chuck Grassley, who are both 87. Republicans Richard Shelby and Jim Inhofe are also slightly older, at 86.

Just hours before being taken to the hospital, Leahy swore in senators for the second Trump impeachment trial that is set to begin the week of Feb. 8.

Third in the line of presidential succession, Leahy has some celebrity and has been featured in five Batman films. He is often seen with a camera at events of historical significance, photographing press penned during Trump’s first and second impeachment trial. 

Leahy faced some scrutiny Tuesday from Senator Rand Paul, as lawmakers swore their oaths of impartiality ahead of the 45th president’s trial. Paul called the impeachment unconstitutional, partially in fact because of Leahy’s role in the event — only the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice should preside over the trial, Paul argued.

But the Vermont senator issued a statement refuting Paul’s argument, noting the Senate president pro tempore has historically presided over impeachment trials of non-presidents, he said.

“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.” Leahy said. “It is an oath that I take extraordinarily seriously.” 

The Senate’s presiding officer during an impeachment trial has little to do other than facilitate a neutral playing field. In the same statement, Leahy noted when a president pro tempore presides over an impeachment trial, they historically serve as neutral arbiters, issuing rules and preserving order.

When Chief Justice John Roberts presided over Trump’s first impeachment trial, he did just that — provided a neutral arbitration between either side. Roberts only interjected once throughout the trial, but to admonish both Republicans and Democrats to remember they were arguing before “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Leahy was first elected to the Senate in 1975 after the Watergate scandal, becoming the youngest elected senator in Vermont’s history at 34. He’s held the position of the Senate’s president pro tempore three times in his 46-year career — a constitutional officer who presides over the body in absence of the vice president.

Leahy will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, after both Republicans and Democrats work out an organizing resolution for the body. A deal seems close on that issue, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying Tuesday both sides had reached an agreement on underlying Senate rules.

Leahy also is the senior member on both the Senate’s Judiciary and Agriculture committees. He led Senate negotiations when drafting the Patriot Act after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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