Democratic strategist and CNN commentator David Axelrod debates Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer, a potential 2020 candidate who routinely calls for President Trump's impeachment, about the impeact of using "impeachment as a political tool."
"On the subject of democracy, my concern is this," Axelrod told Steyer on CNN Monday night. "If impeachment becomes a partisan tool and not an assiduous process, then you are damaging democracy. It's not about defending the President, it's about defending democracy, and we can't take shortcuts because we have a reckless President."
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: With Republicans focused on trying to mitigate a Democratic wave in November, strategies gaining steam, warm the Democrats will immediately move to impeach the President if they were in the House. "New York Times" run the piece about that, over the weekend.
And CNN Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod tweeted about it saying, "Dems should not commit to impeachment unless & until there's a demonstrable case for one. It is not just a matter of politics. It's a matter of principle. If we normalize impeachment as a political tool, it will be another hammer blow to our democracy."
Well, someone who does not agree with that is Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer, who -- you may have seen his T.V. ads making the case for impeachment. He responded with this, "David Axelrod, democracy start with doing what's right. Right now. Not waiting until things get worse. Appeasing Mr. Trump and being polite is what what's wrong with the establishment."
Joining me tonight is Tom Steyer and David Axelrod.
David, you clearly believe that this idea of impeaching President Trump by Democrats is a bad idea. Explain why?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think impeachment is either a bad or a good idea. I think impeachment await the Mueller investigation and real factors, great passion about Donald Trump as you know, I've been pretty critical of him right now. So I share a lot of the concerns about Donald Trump.
But I think that impeachment -- it's only been done twice in the history of this republic, and each time there's been no conviction that followed. And it ought to be proceeded with care so that half the country doesn't think that it's a bloodless coup. And when you ask candidates in advance, will you vote for the impeachment of the President, and you say we're going to make this the first order of business of a Democratic Congress, you are tainting that process of making it necessarily partisan, and I think that is very bad for the country.
COOPER: Tom, what about David's point? Could these calls to impeach the President dilute or somehow normalize impeachment as a political tool?
TOM STEYER, FOUNDER, NEED TO IMPEACH AND NEXTGEN AMERICA: Well, I think that we do take the impeachment process extremely seriously, Anderson. Because what David said is it is absolutely the final resort when you have a dangerous and lawless President, and you should take that process with the due solemnity. But the fact of the matter is we do have a reckless and dangerous President, and it's not a question of partisanship here, it's a question of being patriots, because this is a question about the safety of American democracy and the health and safety of the American people. And it cannot happen without Republican voters and without the people of the United States thinking that it's necessary.
COOPER: Tom, you do have all these impeachable offenses listed on your website including obstruction of justice. Why not just wait to see what Mueller's investigation concludes? I mean, is it worth having this debate before all the facts are in?
STEYER: The funny thing is we did go to over 50 constitutional scholars five months ago and asked them had the criteria for impeachment been met. And they all said yes, it's a laid-down hand. We're entirely supportive of Mr. Mueller's investigation.
But in the normal course of an impeachment, before the impeachment happened, we would have a Senate committee looking into the facts, which started but got squashed. We would have a congressional committee looking into the facts, which started but got squashed. So, in fact, we've done our homework and constitutional experts say that we've met the criteria for impeachment.
AXELROD: Look, on the obstruction of justice charge, Mr. Mueller hasn't even named the President as a target yet. So he hasn't reached that stage on a charge that they are investigating, and he has much more access to information than any of us and, in fact, a degree in the law. As you point out neither of us have that. And he hasn't named him as a target.
I think it may come to the point at some point in the future that some of this will lead to impeachment. It could happen. But we ought to give the American people the confidence that it's done on the basis of facts and on the basis of law, and so, you know, to list them and say you as a non-lawyer have polled some lawyers and you've concluded that these are impeachable offenses, why not let the authorities pursue these, let the courts pursue these issues, and then decide whether or not there should be impeachment?
STEYER: Well, that's a good question, David, and let me answer it, which is this. The American people and the American democracy are at great risk while we wait. The fact of the matter is, we are, at every single day, we are seeing lawless behavior out of this administration, and we're seeing dangerous behavior out of this administration. So the longer we wait, the more that we decide to do nothing, the more risk the American people and the American democracy bear. So there is urgency to this that the assumption of waiting for further corroborating evidence -- the funny thing is we went back through your Twitter account, and on May 17 of 2017, so a year ago, you said that if the President asked Mr. Comey to quash an investigation that that would be the cause for impeachment.
AXELROD: Right that's what -- and you're absolutely right, and that's what Mueller is evaluating, because all we have is what we know from the press reports on this, and we'll see what Mueller concludes about that.
But on the subject of democracy, my concern is this. If impeachment becomes a partisan tool and not an assiduous process, then you are damaging democracy. It's not about defending the President, it's about defending democracy, and we can't take shortcuts because we have a reckless President.