The slow walk to impeachment gathered pace Tuesday when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced House Democrats are moving forward with impeachment, and presidential candidate Tom Steyer thinks it’s about time.
“For whatever reason, it has taken longer than I would have hoped,” Steyer told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview Tuesday evening. Earlier that day, Pelosi — who had been hesitant to champion impeachment — finally succumbed to pressure from the mounting cries within and outside Congress, and she announced that House Democrats are all in.
“When we started two years ago, it was clear to me that he had more than met the criteria for impeachment,” said Steyer, who founded his "Need to Impeach" campaign in 2017 and sunk millions of dollars into the effort. “So, I don’t know what [Congress was] thinking about — because to me this is a straightforward question of right and wrong and standing up against the corruption at the very heart of our system in the White House.”
Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager, broadened the scope of his environmental nonprofit, NextGen America, after the 2016 election to push against Trump. The following year, he started "Need to Impeach" and poured millions of dollars to pressure Congress members to begin impeachment proceedings. The lobbying campaign features an online petition that more than 8 million people have signed, calling to remove President Trump from office.
Steyer on Tuesday pointed to seven Democratic first-term representatives, the majority from vulnerable districts, who called for Trump’s impeachment in a Washington Post op-ed Monday night.
“If you read that statement from the seven freshmen … they basically said ‘this is our duty.’ And that was the original point I was making two years ago — this is not a question of political consideration. This is not a question of partisanship. This is a question of protection of the United States and the American people,” he said.
But Steyer pushed back on the idea of taking credit for the shift on impeachment. “To me, this is the system working. This is grassroots pushing for what’s right. This has never been about me. This has always been about can we get the system to actually stand up for American values,” he said.
Before announcing his campaign, Steyer paid for and starred in TV ads arguing Trump should be ousted from office. His first campaign ad focuses solely on Trump, criticizing the president’s business practices and calling him a “fraud and a failure.”
“We have a broken government,” Steyer said when asked if he thinks the stalling on impeachment was politically motivated. “We’re going to have to insist that the actual impetus for reform comes from outside Washington, DC, not from inside Washington, DC.”
Steyer did, however, laud Rep. Al Green, the Texas representative who was the first member of Congress to come out in favor of impeachment.
“He knew it wasn't a good career move for him. He was just doing it because he thought it was the right thing to do,” Steyer said. The two have collaborated in the past; Green spoke at a "Need to Impeach" rally hosted by Steyer in January.
Steyer announced in January that he wouldn’t run for president and instead was throwing his efforts behind impeaching Trump. But by July, Steyer did an about-face and threw his hat in the race anyway, becoming the 26th Democrat to announce a 2020 campaign. During those seven months, Steyer invested about $40 million into a public education campaign on impeachment.
But the barrage of cash did very little to move the needle on the issue. By the time he announced, only about 80 members of Congress had come out in favor of impeachment — that number has doubled as of Tuesday. Twenty-five members of Congress have come out in support of impeachment in the past two days alone.
As for the Democratic stragglers who haven’t joined the roaring impeachment cry, Steyer has a few questions.
“When you’ve seen this level of criminality — and what I would consider cascading criminality — if this doesn’t push you over, when would you impeach?" he said. "Where would you draw the line? In fact, do you even believe that the president is accountable under the law?”