Leading voice for impeachment rallies region's Democrats
AGAWAM — He, famously, needs to impeach. They needed to talk.
Nearly 200 residents of Western Massachusetts came to a banquet hall that hosts weddings to hear from Tom Steyer, the national activist whose campaign, Need to Impeach, seeks a political divorce.
After a town hall-style event was snowed out in early February, Steyer returned Wednesday to the 1st Congressional District in a bid to pressure U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, to use his influence as a House leader to push for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
When Steyer climbed onto a low stage around 7 p.m., bathed in spotlights and backed by three large TV screens, he faced a capacity crowd primed to hear about the hedge fund founder's push to end the Trump presidency early.
Steyer recapped the long odds of impeachment, including word this week that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to oppose the action. But Steyer said 80 percent of Democrats want it — a figure that's 83 percent in Neal's district, based on the campaign's polling.
A staffer with a microphone roamed the audience. People pitched questions to Steyer, a billionaire who, since 2012, has used his wealth to seek grassroots political reform. He is not a candidate for elective office, though heavy TV advertising has made him a household name among Democrats.
Steyer heard earnest questions about the downside of impeachment proceedings, including a possible uprising by Trump supporters and the elevation of Vice President Mike Pence, the latter voiced by a woman who feared for the safety of her transgender child.
Steyer was upbeat, saying impeachment proceedings would provide Americans with information they need to evaluate the president's fitness to retain office.
"So we can make a decision together about what's right," Steyer said. "The only way that happens is if the American people insist it happens. The real question is whether the American people can be brought into the process."
"Let's get the information to the American people, including Republicans, and let them decide," he said. "It's to let the American people back into the conversation."
Tell the truth and push for turnout at the polls, Steyer said, responding to a question. "Because the vast bulk of Americans are very decent."
The room broke repeatedly into applause.
"I'm glad that you're hopeful, because I'm going to channel that," Debra Dinoi of the Worcester County town of Douglas told Steyer from her front-row seat.
Like others, Dinoi spoke of her frustration with Trump and her desire to "say what's right and true."
Steyer faced pointed questions about the difficulty of securing a vote in the Senate for Trump's removal. If the House votes to impeach a president, the Senate holds a trial, overseen by the chief justice, and must approve a president's removal by a two-thirds vote. That will require 20 Republican senators.
Nevertheless, Steyer said he believes it is time for patriots to step up and back a rigorous impeachment proceeding. "We should be calling it out and standing up for our values. That doesn't seem like a partisan question to me. That is what will pull this country together."
Steyer's campaign this winter hired two dozen canvassers to obtain signatures asking Neal to back a move toward impeachment. It says it collected 23,000 signatures. Canvassers also urged Neal's constituents to contact his offices. The campaign plans to deliver petitions to Neal's Springfield office next week. Ruby Goldberg of Need to Impeach urged audience members to join a postcard-writing drive locally.
"To make sure [Neal] knows that people are pushing him to take action," Goldberg said.
Colin Booth, the New England organizing manager for Need to Impeach, said canvassers have been well-received. "The feedback was incredible. The support here was so broad," he said.
Dennis Jordan, of Agawam, said he came to the meeting to join with others critical of Trump's performance.
"He's destroyed our image across the world," Jordan said of Trump. "We should lead the world in compassion and empathy. We should lead the world in hope. This is an important time. We need to get our country back on track for our children and grandchildren."
John Paykowski, of Longmeadow, said he hoped to see more young people in the audience; the average age appeared to be 50 or older.
"I don't like Trump and how he treats the judicial system — and his whole attitude toward people," Paykowski said.
Thomas W. Bryden III, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, said he voted for Trump but has lost faith in his leadership. "I love this country. If he's guilty, impeach him. Clean house."
Progress to date
In an interview before the rally in Chez Joseph's Allan Bridal Room, Steyer said his campaign is signing up 10,000 people a day and has a list of 7.6 million supporters.
He expressed dismay over Pelosi's comments this week. Pelosi, who is Steyer's representative in Congress, said that because an impeachment effort would likely come up short in the Senate, "it's just not worth it."
"Why are we covering up for this guy?" Steyer asked. "I don't know. There's a right and a wrong here."
A president should not be above the law, he said, and Democrats in Congress should not tolerate possibly unlawful conduct because it's politically expedient. "That's different from what we've thought for the last 226 years."
Steyer said Pelosi's comments illustrate a split between Democratic leaders and everyday members of the party.
"There is this gigantic breakdown between what's going on in D.C. and what's going on in the rest of the country," Steyer said.
His next town hall will be held in South Carolina. The outcome of Need to Impeach hangs on public sentiment, he said.
"What are they willing to do?" Steyer asked of the electorate. "I don't know the answer."
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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