Steyer: From Impeachment Agitator to 2020 Candidate

Steyer: From Impeachment Agitator to 2020 Candidate
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Steyer: From Impeachment Agitator to 2020 Candidate
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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Sitting alone in an empty barn, the billionaire hedge fund manager turned political mega donor tried on a populist tone.

“I think people believe that the corporations have bought the democracy — that politicians don’t care about or respect them, don’t put them first, are not working for them, but are actually working for the people who rigged the system,” Tom Steyer said in a video this week announcing his campaign for president.

His goal, he continued, is “to make democracy work by pushing power down to the people.”

Steyer knows what it takes to influence government, perhaps more than any of the other 2020 Democratic candidates -- and perhaps is not unlike Donald Trump, who bragged on the 2016 campaign trail that he understood “the system better than anybody else.”

Before formally announcing his presidential ambitions on Tuesday, Steyer had made impeaching Trump his focus. He launched a $10 million ad campaign on national television to encourage voters to support the effort, created a super PAC dedicated strictly to lobbying on the matter, and bankrolled politicians who favored giving Trump an early White House exit.

Although Trump remains president and Steyer has now become a candidate, his impeachment crusade was not for nothing. According to Federal Election Commission reports, the super donor helped pack the House Judiciary Committee with Democrats eager to begin impeachment proceedings. Of the nine who received a check from Steyer or support from an aligned PAC, seven support filing articles of impeachment.

Six of them are in their first term, members of the rambunctious freshman class currently giving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fits. Steyer cut a check to Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon in June of 2018 for $2,700, and For Our Future PAC, his aligned PAC, spent another $13,915 in support of her campaign. Scanlon won and became one of the four Democratic women from Pennsylvania to head to Washington.

“The time has come to start an impeachment inquiry,” Scanlon wrote six months later in a statement after White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to appear before the Judiciary Committee. “The American people deserve to know the truth and to have the opportunity to judge the gravity of the evidence and charges leveled against the President.”

Steyer also counts Rep. Greg Stanton as one of his political beneficiaries. He contributed $5,400 to the Arizona Democrat in June of 2018 before Stanton won election by double digits.

“It is time for the House of Representatives to move to the next stages of holding the President accountable, including the extraordinary step of opening an impeachment inquiry,” Stanton said in a May press release.

Steyer didn’t write the check to Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania but For Our Future shelled out $23,235 to support her campaign. She cruised to victory in November. After McGahn failed to appear in front of the Judiciary Committee in May, Dean told CNN that “it is time to begin an investigation, an inquiry, as to impeachment.”

Steyer also contributed to Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida ($5,400 total), Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas ($2,700), and Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado ($5,400 total). Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington also received two checks for a total of $5,400 in her 2018 bid for reelection.

All of them continue to agitate for impeachment. So does Steyer, even though he is also now seeking to replace the president through the traditional manner.

This came as a surprise to the political world. Steyer had kept pundits and politicos guessing for months as he contemplated a White House run. Then, in January, he traveled to Iowa not to announce a presidential campaign but to declare that he would spend “100% of my time and effort in 2019 towards Mr. Trump’s impeachment and removal from office.”

Why did he reverse course and jump into the race? In an interview with NBC, Steyer said he feels like he “won the argument” on impeachment. The fact that Trump remains in the Oval Office is a reminder of what he called “a failure of government.”

So, even after campaigning alongside White House hopefuls such as former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Steyer decided to enter the contest  himself.

“I couldn’t sleep thinking about where we are as a country,” he told NBC.

Steyer didn’t mention impeachment in his video announcement, and it remains to be seen whether the energy he helped whip up can transfer into momentum for his campaign. A joint survey by NPR/PBS/Marist polls found that 22% of Americans want to begin impeachment proceedings while another 25% want investigations into potential wrongdoing by Trump to continue.

Even if Steyer fails to win the nomination, he will not be alone in his calls for impeachment. Despite the wishes of Speaker Pelosi, that clarion cry has become a hallmark in the Democratic House caucus. A vocal 80-person coalition in that party, including those Steyer helped get elected, supports beginning a formal impeachment inquiry.

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