Our Opinion: Perspective needed on impeachment, tax returns

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Tom Steyer, the California billionaire who has literally been putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to being head cheerleader for President Donald Trump's impeachment, must be getting impatient. Not content with merely flooding airwaves and social media with his message, he has decided to ratchet up the pressure by flying to Springfield on Wednesday to hold a rally. Why Springfield? Because that is the largest city in the congressional district held by Rep. Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has the constitutional power to subpoena the tax returns of any American — including the president's. At the moment, Mr. Trump's tax returns hold the most promise for containing offenses that might be deemed impeachable.

While many Americans, especially those who comprise Mr. Neal's 1st District constituency, may agree with Mr. Steyer's goal, and while we share his dismay with the president's behavior, Mr. Steyer's methodology runs the risk of being counterproductive. Thanks to a strong showing by representatives of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in the midterm elections, the far left has been speaking with a powerful new voice in the House. While this infusion of new blood has been snagging most of the ink and airtime lately, the veteran Mr. Neal plods forward like a Clydesdale rather than a racehorse.

A businessman like Mr. Steyer — or even Mr. Trump, for that matter — is used to issuing commands and having them immediately obeyed. Representative democracy is, by design, a different animal — one that requires buy-in by a majority of interests. Mr. Neal's deliberative character and experience are well suited for that process. Moreover, Mr. Neal is aware that while his own district may support impeachment, there are vast swaths of the American body politic that are less engaged and less passionate on the topic, and that need to be educated about it before Democrats trigger what could be perceived as intemperate action that triggers a backlash.

Mr. Neal needs to build an airtight case for his request for President Trump's tax returns, one that can withstand expected legal challenges all the way to the Supreme Court. Democrats' focus must extend beyond Mr. Trump to the many issues, like jobs, education and health care, that concern Americans as a whole.

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