ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Last night's surprise win in Florida's Democratic primary for governor has Tom Steyer feeling good. Steyer is a billionaire donor who has been supporting progressive candidates. And he was a major backer of Andrew Gillum, the come-from-behind candidate in Florida. Steyer is also the face of the ad campaign calling for Donald Trump's impeachment. He's been running ads like this one since last October.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "JOIN US")
TOM STEYER: A Republican Congress once impeached a president for far less. Yet today, people in Congress and his own administration know this president is a clear and present danger.
SHAPIRO: Steyer aims to spend around $120 million this year on progressive politics. The former hedge fund manager joins us now from San Francisco. Tom Steyer, welcome.
STEYER: Ari, it's great to be here.
SHAPIRO: I want to start by talking about yesterday's primary for governor in Florida and the win for the progressive candidate you supported, Andrew Gillum. Bernie Sanders endorsed Gillum. He supports Medicare for all and the abolition of ICE in its current form. Why do you think candidates like him are the way forward for the Democratic Party?
STEYER: Well, I think that Andrew recognizes what people are going through in their lives. And he addresses it. Whether it's the need for affordable health care or whether it's the need for rising incomes for the vast bulk of Americans, I think Andrew's dealing with the actual facts - and not talking political jargon but telling the truth.
SHAPIRO: Florida is a state that President Trump carried two years ago. How do you respond to Democrats who say, if you want to win over the people who voted for President Trump, you're going to need candidates who are more of a centrist consensus builder?
STEYER: Well, Ari, you know, we're a grassroots organization. And one of the things that we're doing this year is we're organizing voters under the age of 35 in the biggest youth-voter mobilization effort in American history. And they vote at half the rate of other American citizens. And when we asked them why they don't vote, they tell us. They don't vote because they don't think the system responds to their needs, and they don't believe either political party is telling the truth.
SHAPIRO: So is this just a calculation that you may alienate the older voters who could be on the fence, but you'll make up for it by getting more engaged younger voters?
STEYER: Well, I see it as our deep belief in democracy, Ari - that if citizens are engaged, if they believe that the system is responsive, that they will then show up and vote.
SHAPIRO: Let's talk about impeachment now. I'm curious. The grounds laid out in the Constitution for impeachment are treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. In your view, which of those specifically applies to President Trump?
STEYER: (Laughter) Mr. Trump has been meeting the grounds for impeachment from the day he walked into this office - led by corruption, which is in the Constitution. It is the so-called emoluments charge, which says the president cannot take any payment whatsoever from a foreign country which he, of course, does virtually every day.
SHAPIRO: You mean, through the Trump Corporation - which he says he has separated himself from.
STEYER: Which he still owns - so we're seeing corruption at a grand level. We're seeing obstruction of justice. And I think that we're seeing that the jaws of justice are closing in on this president. And he's increasingly panicked, as he's now an unindicted co-conspirator in felony crimes through Michael Cohen, that he's going to be brought to account for what he does every day.
SHAPIRO: Will you have a stronger case if you wait for the justice system to bring him to account and wait for the investigation of Robert Mueller to run its course?
STEYER: Well, of course, more information is good. And Mr. Mueller has subpoena power and the ability to bring specific evidence to bear. But we have more than enough information in the public realm now to see that this president has much more than met the grounds for impeachment.
SHAPIRO: The leaders of the Democratic party, chosen by the American people, don't think that your push to impeachment is a good idea. Is there something undemocratic about a wealthy, outside donor leading this effort that is not supported by the leaders of the party you support?
STEYER: Well, I think what's important to remember is that this is an impeachment petition - that what we're doing is gathering signatures and trying to empower the voice of the American people. And what we're seeing is that the establishment Democrats inside Washington, D.C., have decided for their tactical, political purposes that this doesn't work for them in the midterms this year. What we're seeing from the movement is that the American people understand that this is the most important political question in front of the country and that this president breaks the law on a daily basis and should be removed.
SHAPIRO: Tom Steyer, thanks so much for talking with us today.
STEYER: Ari, it's a pleasure to be here.
SHAPIRO: He's a former hedge fund manager and donor to Democratic causes, funding the Need to Impeach campaign.
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