Updated: Steyer stumps in Massachusetts to impeach Trump; Tuesday event postponed
This story has been updated to note that Tuesday's town hall meeting in Springfield has been postponed.
BOSTON — Billionaire philanthropist and political activist Tom Steyer said Democrats running in 2020 would be making a mistake to not talk on the stump about removing President Donald Trump from office.
Steyer, who was in Boston on Monday as he prepared to host a town hall in Springfield on Tuesday night, urged the developing 2020 field to tackle impeachment head on; the event was cenceled because of snow, to be rescheduled at a later date. He said he's becoming frustrated with the pace of Democrats who vowed to investigate Trump once they took control of the House.
"We not only have a reckless, lawless, dangerous president, but we have a system that refuses to do anything about it. That's a crisis. So if you want to be president of the United States, and you're too scared to talk about the crisis that's going on right now in any way that would have impact, then I don't think you should be president of the United States," Steyer told the News Service in a sitdown interview.
Steyer is spending significant amounts of money in Western Massachusetts trying to rally constituents of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal behind impeachment and the subpoenaing of Trump's tax returns. The San Francisco Democrat considered running for president himself, but opted instead to focus his energy on the mission of his organization "Need to Impeach," which he started in 2017.
The group is running ads in three congressional districts represented by members of House leadership — Neal, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland — and considering where to go next. A poll commissioned by Need to Impeach from Change Research found that 78 percent of voters in Neal's district support Trump's impeachment before hearing the group's message, and 85 percent support impeachment after hearing the message.
Steyer's comments on the 2020 presidential race came a day after Sen. Elizabeth Warren suggested at an event in Iowa that Trump might be in prison before voters decide the 2020 election. But many Democratic candidates, including Warren, have opted early on in the campaign to focus on a vision for the future rather than Trump.
Warren called the Trump administration "the most corrupt in living memory" in her announcement speech Saturday in Lawrence, but stopped there with the president, whom she described as a symptom of a more insidious disease in Washington.
It wasn't until Warren got to Iowa on Sunday that she broached the idea of impeachment: "Here's what bothers me: By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president. In fact, he may not even be a free person," Warren told a crowd in Cedar Rapids.
Steyer planned to headline a town hall meeting at Cedars Banquet Facility in Springfield on Tuesday night. Need to Impeach launched an ad campaign in Neal's First Congressional District last week, including $109,000 on television and $100,000 on digital ads. The group also is finalizing plans to hire one full-time organizing manager and up to 25 part-time, paid canvassers.
Steyer's event Tuesday night was to be the first of three town halls planned in Massachusetts, New York and Maryland. Steyer said his team is also thinking about whether to go into districts where impeachment polls less favorably than in Democratic strongholds such as Massachusetts.
Neal is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and Steyer said he has the "absolute" authority to subpoena Trump's tax returns, which the president has not disclosed because he says they are under federal audit.
"If we're going to actually get investigations, impeachment and removal from office, we've got to get this show on the road," Steyer said, mocking the Democrats who say they want to proceed cautiously. "The idea that we're doing this carefully and judiciously, I don't even know what that means. They have an absolute right to do this."
"We've already wasted five weeks," he said.
Neal has been saying since the election that he intends to seek Trump's tax returns, but his office said the Springfield Democrat is consulting with the U.S. House counsel and the Committee on Taxation to "determine the appropriate legal steps to go forward with this unprecedented request."
"A strong case is being built, and the chairman will continue to conduct this process in a judicious, methodical and deliberative manner. He also strongly believes that the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller must be allowed to continue," William Tranghese, spokesperson for Neal, said in a statement.
Steyer said he also supports Mueller's investigation but does not think it should stop Congress from exercising its right to investigate and impeach the president. He believes there's enough evidence in the public domain now to impeach the president, suggesting it's clear that the president has obstructed justice, and is profiting from the presidency through his hotels and other business interests.
"We're not suggesting that Congressman Neal doesn't care about his constituents," Steyer said. "We're trying to make it clear that they overwhelmingly want him to do something."
While it remains to be seen whether Steyer can create a national movement behind impeachment, he has managed to get over 7.2 million people to sign his petition, including over 21,000 from Neal's district, which has more than 700,000 residents. Only two presidents — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — have been impeached by the House, but both were acquitted and allowed to remain in office by the Senate.
Steyer said he doesn't yet know whether he will use the ability to reach all 21,000 people to influence the 2020 Democratic primary, but he did say he has no regrets about his decision not to run.
Warren, in particular, has been critical of the idea of billionaires using their personal wealth to campaign for president, and has proposed an "ultra-millionaire" tax on the very wealthy that Steyer not only supports, but said he proposed first.
"I think we proposed it three months before she did. So, in fact, I'd say, it's late," Steyer said.
As for Warren's campaign, Steyer said, "I think that she's been working really hard to bring up a bunch of ideas and to reframe some of the economic questions in the United States."
Steyer also said he thought billionaire Starbucks founder Howard Shultz seemed ill prepared for his rollout as a potential moderate independent candidate for president.
"I said and I believe that if you listen to him, he hadn't really thought all this stuff through and he wasn't ready to have that platform, because he didn't really have anything to say," Steyer said.
Asked if he feared an independent candidate such as Schultz tipping the scales in Trump's favor in 2020, Steyer said, "I think it's too soon to worry about any of that stuff, although I've heard the names Ralph Nader and Jill Stein, so I take the point."
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