Enjoy this moment of levity — and clarity — from the man spending $20 million to promote himself ahead of a Senate race. Tom Steyer, who once convinced Harry Reid to let him rent the Senate for a meaningless overnight session about climate change that didn’t even produce a proposal from Democrats, went on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday to promote his new campaign. Dana Bash pointed out the main problem with it right up front, however, with a tough question. On which constitutional grounds does Steyer rest this campaign?
The short answer is none but that doesn’t matter at all to Steyer:
BASH: You have become perhaps the loudest voice calling for impeachment. The Constitution sets the grounds for impeachment as treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Which has the president violated?
STEYER: Good morning, Dana. I would say it’s clear that he has violated the Constitution, in the sense that he’s violated his trust with the American people through obstructing justice by firing the head of the FBI, Mr. Comey, for what he said explicitly was over the Russian investigation. He has been taking — in contradiction of the Emoluments Clause, he has been taking payments from foreign governments almost since the very first day that he took office.
I don’t think there’s any question and — that he has, in fact, met that standard for impeachment. But I think the important thing is not just that he’s met the standard, but it’s very important and urgent that we get him out of office.
In other words, Steyer doesn’t actually have specific articles of impeachment in mind, other than firing James Comey — which is entirely within the authority of the presidency — and a very bad reading of the Emoluments Clause. If “violating his trust with the American people” was an impeachable offense, we’d have impeached most of Trump’s predecessors over unfulfilled campaign promises. Heck, the House and Senate couldn’t even work up an impeachment for James Clapper, who flat-out lied to both on more than one occasion over domestic surveillance during the Obama administration.
On the Comey issue, a special counsel is already looking into whether the intent was to obstruct justice. (The continuing investigation would seem like a pretty good indication it wasn’t.) Why not wait for Robert Mueller to get done, Bash asks Steyer — wouldn’t that make more sense? Naah, Steyer says — let’s have the trial before the investigation’s complete:
STEYER: As I said, I believe — an impeachment is actually a process where the House puts him up for a trial in the Senate. So, in fact, to have him impeached merely means that, in a public way, the Senate goes through all of the evidence right in front of the American people. And the fact of the matter is, we know from what he has said publicly that he’s violated the Constitution and is subject to impeachment.
Er … no, not really, although Steyer doesn’t make the only argument that actually applies in this situation. Impeachment isn’t a legal process — it’s a political process. Theoretically at least, the House can determine for itself what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and can impeach based on their own understanding.
That creates its own political risks even when actual crimes can be demonstrated, such as Bill Clinton’s perjury and obstruction of justice in the Paula Jones lawsuit. The House impeached Clinton but the Senate balked at conviction and removal even though Clinton admitted guilt in that case, and the voters punished Republicans for pursuing what was widely perceived as a partisan attempt to give Clinton the boot.
In this case, Steyer’s getting accused of the same thing, as well as personal grandstanding — and not just by Republicans:
BASH: I want to read to you what President Obama’s former chief strategist David Axelrod tweeted. He said the following. He said, “Steyer impeachment ads seem to be more of a vanity project than a call to action. It is at least this point an unhelpful message. If impeachment becomes a political tool, it will be as damaging to our democracy as the degradations Donald Trump has inflicted on it.”
What face is front and center in these ads with some of your fellow Democrats are saying as you just heard is that you’re using the specter of impeachment to build your own political brand. Your response?
STEYER: I think that the people in Washington, D.C., and the political establishment can’t accept the idea that the American people are supposed to have their own voice. And what we’re doing is providing a venue for Americans to add their voices together to change the conversation, the dysfunctional conversation in Washington, D.C. That’s what we’re doing.
And so, in fact, what we’re trying to do is let the people’s voice be heard, which is exactly what our organization has always done, is to go for more democracy. It doesn’t surprise me that political elites want to close off the American people and make sure that they remain in control.
Huh? The American people had their voice heard in an election thirteen months ago. If it takes $20 million to push the winner’s political opponents to impeach him, it’s a pretty good sign that they’re not hearing the same voices that are presently swimming around in Steyer’s head. The proper venue in a constitutional republic for the voice of the people is the ballot box, not a billionaire’s bank account. In fact, an impeachment that attempted to reverse an election based on nothing more (yet, anyway) than its outcome sounds like the antithesis of the voice of the electorate.
That’s why Democrats are trying to stay at arms’ length from Steyer … at least until they can rent out a chamber of Congress to him again.