MSNBC Segment on ‘How Impeachment Works’ Gets Process Wrong

In his haste to outline the impeachment process for liberal viewers hoping to see President Trump removed from office, on Wednesday, MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi got a couple key facts wrong. Later in the 11:00 a.m. ET hour show, Velshi corrected his mistakes after being alerted to them by members of the audience via social media.

As he reported that the “president’s campaign manager...was found guilty in an Alexandria, Virginia, courtroom within minutes of the president’s personal lawyer pleading guilty in a New York City courtroom, implicating the president in his crimes,” Velshi walked over to a touchscreen monitor in the studio displaying the headline, “How Impeachment Works.”

 

 

Aided by on-screen graphics, the host began to summarize the congressional process: “First of all, the House of Representatives draws up articles of impeachment. Think of the House as the prosecutor, the document details any, quote, ‘High crimes and misdemeanors that the president is believed to be guilty of.’”

He then falsely explained:

Next, the House votes. At least two-thirds of the chamber has to approve the impeachment. Two hundred and eighty-eight votes, as it’s currently constituted, since there are four vacancies in the House right now. This is a high bar, making many impeachment proceedings a bipartisan effort, neither party can do it on their own.

In reality, only a simple majority is required in the House for an impeachment vote.

Velshi made another blunder as he outlined the next step:

Once the House approves the articles of impeachment, the matter goes to the Senate, which acts more like a courtroom. The Senate tries the case and votes, acting as defense, judge, and jury. Again, the threshold is two-thirds. So even half the chamber voting to impeach would still acquit the president. Two-thirds of the Senate, 60 as it stands right now, are needed to vote guilty for impeachment.

While the Senate does require a two-thirds majority vote on impeachment, that number would be 67, not 60.

Immediately following his error-laden explanation, Velshi engaged in a discussion with presidential historian Jon Meacham and National Constitution Center president Jeffrey Rosen, neither of whom pointed out his inaccurate reporting.

Only after being informed by viewers on social media during the following commercial break about getting the impeachment process wrong did Velshi correct the record:

Welcome back. Some days we love social media because a number of you sent me information about something I made a mistake on in the last segment. So I want to correct that real quick. To impeach the president, the House needs only a simple majority, not two-thirds. The House needs a simple majority. The Senate does need a two-thirds majority, but that would be 67 of the senators, 66 of the senators or 67, someone will help you with the math on that, but the fact is, its two-thirds of 100 senators, depending on how many seats in the Senate are actually filled at any given time. So thank you to those of you who sent that information.

Velshi could have double checked the widely-available information with any number of sources. In May of 2017, The New York Times explained the impeachment process in a lengthy article, already eagerly anticipating the end of the Trump presidency only a few months after he took the oath of office.  

Here is a full transcript of Velshi’s initial August 22 explanation segment:

11:02 AM ET

(...)

ALI VELSHI: The president’s campaign manager – let's walk over here with me – was found guilty in an Alexandria, Virginia, courtroom within minutes of the president’s personal lawyer pleading guilty in a New York City courtroom, implicating the president in his crimes. All of it bringing impeachment back to the forefront. Let’s take a look at the process of impeachment.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: How Impeachment Works]

First of all, the House of Representatives – okay, let’s do that, let’s open that up [struggling with touchscreen monitor]. There we go, alright. First of all, the House of Representatives draws up articles of impeachment. Think of the House as the prosecutor, the document details any, quote, “High crimes and misdemeanors that the president is believed to be guilty of.” Only the House can bring charges against a president, but any individual congressperson can start this process.

Next, the House votes. At least two-thirds of the chamber has to approve the impeachment. Two hundred and eighty-eight votes, as it’s currently constituted, since there are four vacancies in the House right now. This is a high bar, making many impeachment proceedings a bipartisan effort, neither party can do it on their own.

Once the House approves the articles of impeachment, the matter goes to the Senate, which acts more like a courtroom. The Senate tries the case and votes, acting as defense, judge, and jury. Again, the threshold is two-thirds. So even half the chamber voting to impeach would still acquit the president. Two-thirds of the Senate, 60 as it stands right now, are needed to vote guilty for impeachment.

Now if they do, the president is removed from office, the vice president would then take his place. We have never gotten to this step before, with the Senate acquitting Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon resigned before impeachment proceedings could begin. Had he not done that, he would have been impeached.

Joining me now, presidential historian Jon Meacham and president of the National Constitution Center Jeffrey Rosen.

(...)


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