Trump tweet tweaks ‘wacky’ Steyer

Cal­i­for­nia bil­lion­aire’s im­peach­ment pe­ti­tion lat­est to get pres­i­dent’s goat

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Casey Tolan ctolan@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

Tom Steyer was sit­ting on a plane wait­ing to take off from SFO to LAX last week when he got a text: The pres­i­dent had just tweeted about him.

For most peo­ple, hav­ing Don­ald Trump call them out on Twit­ter as “wacky & to­tally un­hinged” — as the pres­i­dent did of Steyer — isn’t ex­actly a good way to start your day.

But for Steyer, a bil­lion­aire hedge fund chief and phi­lan­thropist run­ning an $11 mil­lion ad cam­paign call­ing for Trump’s im­peach­ment, that tweet was more than wel­come — in­tro­duc­ing him and his move­ment to the pres­i­dent’s 41 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

“I think it was a kind of de­fen­sive re­ac­tion from a guy who un­der the sur­face knows he’s do­ing a ter­ri­ble job,” Steyer said in an in­ter­view on Wed­nes­day.

Steyer’s cam­paign has gath­ered steam: In 14 days, his pe­ti­tion call­ing for Trump’s im­peach­ment has gath­ered­more than 1.4 mil­lion sig­na­tures. His 60-sec­ond ad — which is play­ing na­tion­wide on TV and on­line — ar­gues that Trump has “ob­structed jus­tice” and “brought us to the brink of nu­clear war,” as video rolls of North Korean Pres­i­dent Kim Jong-un. It has been viewed nearly 1.2mil­lion times on YouTube and 474,000 times on Face­book.

The cam­paign also dras­ti­cally raises Steyer’s pro­file just as he’s con­sid­er­ing chal­leng­ing Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein in next year’s elec­tion.

Some ob­servers see his ef­forts more as self- pro­mo­tion than any­thing else. Three-fourths of the ad fea­tures a denim- clad Steyer star­ing di­rectly into the cam­era, with on-screen text in­tro­duc­ing him as an “Amer­i­can Cit­i­zen.”

But Steyer in­sists that the cam­paign is “not aboutme.”

“I’m just the ve­hi­cle,” he said. “The Amer­i­can peo­ple are very scared by the be­hav­ior of this pres­i­dent.”

It was no co­in­ci­dence that the ad was shown on “Fox & Friends,” Trump’s fa­voriteTVshow— it’s aimed at reach­ing more than just the lib­eral faith­ful who al­ready be­lieve Trump should be kicked out of the Oval Of­fice, Steyer said.

When the ad came on dur­ing sev­er­alWorld Se­ries games over the last week, Twit­ter lit up with peo­ple ask­ing, ba­si­cally, who the hell is Tom Steyer?

At the same time, pop­u­lar sup­port for im­peach­ment is grow­ing. A poll re­leased Tues­day from the Demo­cratic- lean­ing firm Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling found that 49 per­cent of Amer­i­cans sup­port im­peach­ing Trump, a record high. In­ter­views were con­ducted be­fore the in­dict­ments of sev­eral Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials on Mon­day.

The im­peach­ment de­bate is po­lit­i­cally ben­e­fi­cial for both Trump and Steyer, said Dan Sch­nur, a for­mer political strate­gist in Cal­i­for­nia.

“Both of them can use this de­bate to get their re­spec­tive bases ex­cited,” Sch­nur said. “If Steyer does de­cide to run for Se­nate, this can’t help but help, but even if he de­cides not to run, it serves to el­e­vate his stature within party ranks.”

Steyer, who lives in San Francisco, worked at Mor­gan Stan­ley and Gold­man Sachs be­fore found­ing his own­hedge fund. He stepped down from his com­pany in 2012 to fo­cus on pol­i­tics and phi­lan­thropy, ad­vo­cat­ing for green en­ergy and cli­mate change poli­cies. He is one of the top Demo­cratic donors in the coun­try, giv­ing $91 mil­lion to the party’s can­di­dates dur­ing the 2016 elec­tions.

Michael Ahrens, a spokesman for the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, called Steyer’s im­peach­ment cam­paign a “base­less rad­i­cal ef­fort” by Democrats “to ap­pease the far left and their lib­eral megadonors.”

A hand­ful of mem­bers of Congress, in­clud­ing Rep. Brad Sherman, D- Sherman Oaks, have tried to push for­ward ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against Trump, but found lit­tle trac­tion so far. Sev­eral other Cal­i­for­nia House mem­bers, such as Rep. Jackie Speier, DSan Ma­teo, have al­ready called for Trump to be re­moved from of­fice through the 25th Amend­ment, a sep­a­rate process that would have to be ini­ti­ated by the pres­i­dent’s Cab­i­net.

Sherman em­pha­sized in an in­ter­view that ad­vo­cat­ing for im­peach­ment was a long-termstrat­egy, and said just talk­ing about im­peach­ing Trump has helped con­strain the pres­i­dent’s ac­tions. He said Steyer’s cam­paign could be a pow­er­ful tool — es­pe­cially if Steyer uses his 1.4 mil­lion-per­son list as the base of a larger move­ment, in­stead of just col­lect­ing their sig­na­tures.

“You gotta hand it to Tom, he moves big and quick,” Sherman said. “It’s nice to be a bil­lion­aire.”

Some con­gres­sional Democrats worry that spend­ing time on the ques­tion of im­peach­ment takes away from their party’s larger eco­nomic mes­sage. House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi has told her cau­cus that Steyer’s ad cam­paign is a dis­trac­tion, Politico re­ported Wed­nes­day.

Steyer said he wants to mar­shal sup­port for im­peach­ment among the broader pub­lic, not just mem­bers of Congress — most of whom, he says, are too scared to come out and back im­peach­ment even if they per­son­ally be­lieve Trump should be re­moved from of­fice.

“We’re not go­ing to go to the elected of­fi­cials who feel po­lit­i­cally ham­strung from telling the truth about this,” Steyer said. “We’re go­ing di­rectly to the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

While out­side groups ad­vo­cated for Bill Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment in the ‘ 90s, there hasn’t been a na­tional pro-im­peach­ment ad cam­paign of this scale, said Mark Tush­net, a political sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Har­vard.

Trump’s tweet about Steyer “has a sort of am­pli­fy­ing ef­fect,” Tush­net said.

Mean­while, Steyer’s fo­cus on im­peach­ment also helps him draw a con­trast with Fe­in­stein, who has dis­missed talk of im­peach­ing Trump in the past. At a San Francisco event in Au­gust, she said that “this man is go­ing to be pres­i­dent, most likely for the rest of this term,” elic­it­ing boos from the crowd.

State Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de León, who is al­ready run­ning against Fe­in­stein, has said that he be­lieves Trump should be im­peached. In ad­di­tion to Steyer, Los An­ge­les en­tre­pre­neur Joe San­berg and news show host Cenk Uygur are also con­sid­er­ing jump­ing in the race.

Steyer said he has no “drop- dead date” for de­cid­ing whether or not to run, and he’s fo­cused on the im­peach­ment cam­paign in­stead of the Se­nate race.

“Some­one has got to push on this,” he said, “and no­body else seems to want to push as hard as we do.”

JUSTIN SUL­LI­VAN — GETTY IMAGES

Trump’s tweet, says Steyer, was “a de­fen­sive re­ac­tion” froma guy­who knows he’s do­ing a bad job.

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