When Tom Steyer talks about the House’s move this past week to launch an impeachment investigation, most of his sentences begin with “my point on this all along” or “as I’ve always been saying.”
And it’s true, Steyer, the former California businessman now running for president, has been talking about impeachment for a long time.
He started his Need To Impeach organization in October of 2017, aimed at building up a grassroots movement to put pressure on Congress to impeach President Donald Trump. The group spent over $13 million in the 2018 cycle, and Steyer himself campaigned around the country in support of the effort, leading to some interesting events like a May 2018 town hall in Des Moines.
Now that House Democrats have decided to move forward with impeachment proceedings following revelations over Trump’s attempt to get Ukraine to investigate a political opponent, Steyer has a few thoughts on the matter.
“The grassroots have been dragging D.C. there,” Steyer, in an interview with Starting Line, said of Congress’ change of heart on impeachment. “This is a perfect example of what I’ve been trying to talk about in terms of our broken government — the source of changes has to come from the grassroots of the outside … When I started Need To Impeach, people from around the country piled onto it. People across this country knew this guy’s a crook.”
The Ukraine matter has obviously opened up new facts and even greater concerns with Trump’s presidency, namely that he is trying once again — while in office — to recruit foreign interference in American elections. But Steyer noted that “there was something wrong two years ago” and warned, “the longer we wait to hold him to account, the worse it will get.”
Some of his fellow presidential candidates, like Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren, started calling for impeachment proceedings earlier this year. The entire field, including even holdout Tulsi Gabbard, are now agreeing with the move.
“It’s hard to call that leadership,” Steyer said of some of the more recent converts.
One of the biggest reasons many Democrats said they were hesitant on the issue was that the Republican-controlled Senate will simply acquit Trump, letting him say he was vindicated.
Steyer, however, said that’s the wrong thing to focus on. The real political consequence won’t be in D.C., but among the voters around the country.
“The court that counts is the court of public opinion,” Steyer said. “It is the American people’s judgement that will determine what happens here. The job of the Congress is to make sure there are televised hearings.”
Those televised hearings are what will be the real game-changer, Steyer argued. Regardless of how Trump and his Republican allies try to spin the situation, America will get to watch the accusations and evidence play out in real time.
The Republican damage-control effort is already well underway. On Friday, it was reported that Trump’s reelection campaign and the RNC will spend a combined $10 million on TV and online ads attacking Joe Biden, trying to shift the story to one of Trump valiantly uncovering corruption.
Steyer said the facts will speak louder than those ads.
“$10 million isn’t going to cover it,” he said. “This should be the biggest reality TV show ever. We get a chance to see the truth … Let the American people see the truth. This is not a Washington, D.C., story, this is an American story.”
But before the House gets into full, televised impeachment hearings, the national news media will play a large role in how Trump’s actions get covered. Already, it seems to be lacking.
Despite the Trump Administration’s release of the edited summary of Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president, most national news outlets referred to it as a “transcript.” That gave the incorrect appearance that this was the full text of the conversation, when in fact it was not. Parts of the call that were omitted from the White House’s version may contain even more problematic — or illegal — conversation.
Here we go again, Steyer said.
“Have we seen this movie before? Hello? Bill Barr. There’s nothing in the Mueller report, he’s fully exonerated? Straight-up lie,” he said. “There has been a willingness on the part of the press to do false equivalence.”
“I hope that doesn’t happen in this story,” Steyer continued. “It’s obviously happened very consistently for the last five year, and it’s very misleading. That’s why I hope for publicized hearings where people can get direct input and not the spin from Fox News and not the false equivalence.”
As for the 2020 race, one of Steyer’s two biggest causes (the other being climate change) is now being embraced by most of the leadership of the Democratic Party. Steyer was roundly criticized by national Democrats for spending so much money on advertising around impeachment during the past two years. That investment, however, may have helped build the public opinion base on impeachment now necessary to make the whole thing a success.
Steyer, though, doesn’t take the opportunity to hit back at those critics or use it to tout his own judgement.
“This is kind of a proof point,” is all the further he goes, before turning the focus back to how the grassroots helped bring this pressure. His Need To Impeach group got to eight million petition signers (and email sign-ups) before he left it to run for president. It still continues to operate, just without his involvement.
The other political consequences may yet be for other politicians on the ballot in 2020. If the Republican Senate does stick by their president regardless of the evidence, Steyer said that will become a part of their reelection campaigns.
“I think this is going to put Joni Ernst in a terrible position,” Steyer said. “People in the United States know that the President is a crook. Her constituents are going to know that. She’s going to have to decide if she tells the truth or protect the head of her party. She’s going to have to do it in plain sight. And she’s going to have to wear that vote for the rest of her life.”
On the Democratic primary front, unlike some of the other Democratic candidates, who have deferred questions over Trump’s accusations of Biden to Biden himself, Steyer quickly swats down the attacks.
“I think it’s a smear tactic by the President,” Steyer said. “He’s looking to get a foreign country to do research and smear his political opponents. Have you heard that story before? Isn’t that exactly what he did in 2016? The story here is about Mr. Trump’s corruption, not about Vice President Biden.”
by Pat Rynard
Photo by Julie Fleming