Steyer: Pelosi Is ‘Normalizing’ Trump By Not Talking Impeachment
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Tom Steyer says the Democrats telling him to call off his impeachment crusade are like those who told civil rights activists to be patient, and says Nancy Pelosi and others holding back on calling for impeachment are “normalizing” Donald Trump’s presidency.
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Steyer doesn’t care that Democratic leaders are worried that he could blow their chance at winning the House by talking up impeachment around the country and in his TV ads—though he argues he’s actually helping Democrats. He says he’s the only person willing to tell the truth. And the thing about a self-made billionaire with nothing to lose: it’s hard for anyone to convince him he might be wrong, or to get him to stop.
“Impeaching the president of the United States is upsetting the status quo. Anytime in American history that there has been an attempt to upset the status quo, there have been people within the status quo—within the establishment—saying, ‘It may be true, it may be something we should deal with, it may be important, but not now,’” Steyer told me in an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. “If you look at the civil rights movement, the pushback was not, ‘You’re not telling the truth,’ the pushback was, ‘We’re dealing with it in time. Stand down so we can deal with it in time.’”
Steyer believes he’s lighting up the votes that the Democrats need to flip the House, despite Pelosi’s pushback in both public and private. In a phone call late last fall, the House minority leader urged Steyer to pull the money he was putting into pro-impeachment TV ads and instead spend it on tanking the Republican tax bill.
She’s his congresswoman. They’re friendly. They’ve known each other for years.They agreed to disagree, said a person who was told about the call.
For Steyer, it’s not just Pelosi who’s wrong, it’s every Democrat who stands with her. They’re putting the country at risk right now, he said, and they’re destroying themselves in the long term.
“The Founders gave us impeachment to answer a reckless, lawless, and dangerous president and every day that his behavior is accepted, every day that you don’t oppose it, it becomes enshrined as the way things are done. You have normalized this presidency, you have normalized his behavior,” Steyer said. “And then at the end of four years when you come out and, you know it’s inevitable, ‘It’s outrageous what he’s done.’ Really? Because for the last 1300 days you’ve kind of gone along with it. … How much credibility—I think there’s a question here.”
A Pelosi spokesman declined to talk about Steyer. In the Democratic leader’s orbit, mentions of his name tend to set off a series of heard-it-all-before groans. She’s repeatedly said that she hasn’t yet seen a solid case for impeachment, and maintains that fewer people are talking about it now for Trump than were for George W. Bush in the heat of the Iraq War fallout in the run-up to the 2006 midterms romp she led, when Democrats picked up 31 seats and flipped both the House and Senate. Democratic leaders worry that even raising the topic of impeachment this year threatens to make swing House districts unwinnable and all but erases the chance of retaking control of the House.
Steyer, meanwhile, says he’d impeach Trump tomorrow if he could. He had 58 Constitutional experts put together eight arguments to boot the president before they even get to the Mueller probe, including for violating the emoluments clause, making the country less safe and attacking the press. And he suggests that the greater risk for Democrats—both as a matter of principles and electoral math—is in not talking about impeachment.
Steyer and his staff have crunched their own numbers off the nearly 5.4 million people who’ve signed up with his “Need to Impeach” initiative. By their count, there are 10,000 people in each of the 75 most hotly contested House districts who are on his list—enough to swing a close race—and two-thirds of them are sporadic voters. By shooting down every question about impeachment, Steyer says, Pelosi is writing those voters off.
“What we know is there are millions of Americans who don’t vote because they are not hearing the truth,” said Steyer, who starts every interview by drawing a Jerusalem-cross pattern on the back of his hand—it’s the international sign of humility, he said, and a reminder to tell the truth, even if they put you on a cross for it. “They don’t think that the existing political establishment wants to talk about the basic questions of the day.”