Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is set to begin on Tuesday and his lawyer – David Schoen, a modern Orthodox Jew – has withdrawn a request to pause the trial for Shabbat.
The decision by Schoen is a quick reversal from his request last week that the trial be suspended from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday so that he may observe the Jewish day of rest.
By all accounts, the Senate leadership had accepted the request without complaint. “We respect their request and of course will accommodate it. Conversations with the relevant parties about the structure of the trial continue,” said Justin Goodman, the spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Nonetheless, Schoen has now decided that the accommodation would not be necessary.
“I very much appreciated your decision; but I remained concerned about the delay in the proceedings in a process that I recognize is important to bring a conclusion for all involved and for the country.” Schoen wrote in a letter late Monday to Senators Chuck Schumer, Pat Leahey and Mitch McConnell.
Reposting - Trump lawyer David Schoen withdraws request for a break for Shabbat on Saturday. Unclear what change in the legal team prompted it. pic.twitter.com/VtLRVNh9jm— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) February 9, 2021
“I will not participate during the Sabbath,” Schoen added. “But the role I would have played will be fully covered to the satisfaction of the defense team.”
Schoen is far from the first Jewish public figure for whom Shabbat observance was taken into consideration.
Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman was well-known for walking to Capitol Hill whenever an important vote occurred on Shabbat.
“For me, the right thing to do on the Sabbath was never to be involved in politics on the Sabbath,” Lieberman said in a 2011 speech to the American Enterprise Institute. “But if I had a governmental responsibility, particularly one I couldn’t delegate like voting, on a Friday night or Saturday, I would always be there.”
Shabbat observance also came into play during the Trump administration. President Trump’s Jewish daughter, Ivanka, as well as his son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, were both given a rabbinic dispensation, known as a heter, to use a car to get to President Trump’s inaugural weekend festivities.
Normally, riding in a vehicle with all its mechanical features would be verboten on Shabbat due to the prohibition of kindling a flame.
It wouldn’t be the only time Shabbat observance would come up during Trump’s term either. Kushner got similar dispensations during his work on the Abraham Accords and the president’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the Clinton administration, Chief of Staff Jack Lew famously would not pick up the phone on Shabbat until pressed by president Clinton to do so in case of urgent situations.
Schoen concluded his letter to the senators with a note of gratitude. “I thank you for your graciousness and hope that the proceedings can now move forward without any delay occasioned by my request.”