Tom Steyer, the San Francisco billionaire leading a petition drive to impeach President Trump, spoke this week by telephone after an appearance at Stanford's business school. The interview has been excerpted and edited for clarity and concision.
So how exactly is this supposed to work? You gather all these signatures and then what happens?
If we gather enough signatures and we give voice to enough Americans, then people have to listen to the will of the American people. And then people decide whether or not they're with the American people.
I think if you went to the people in the Congress of the United States of America and asked whether this president was fit, you wouldn't get a single Democrat who would say yes…. I don't think there are a lot of Republicans who'd say yes. I think if you asked them is he a threat to the safety and health of the American people, they'd say he is.
So I think what we're doing is giving the American people a voice on something that all of these people know is true that is, in fact, of grave importance to the American people and that for whatever political reason they don't feel they can say.
I don't doubt there are a great many people in places like California who feel that way. But what about places like Alabama or Mississippi represented by Republican lawmakers?
If you go and poll — not just get signatures from but poll — Democrats and independents, you'll see shockingly high numbers that agree with us…. But it turns out I did graduate from third grade and I did pass arithmetic… so I know that in order to get an impeachment to happen or a conviction [in the Senate] that of course we need to get Republican votes. So I think the fact of the matter is what we're doing is we're making the point about where the American people stand.
The facts are going to mount on the ground 'cause we actually do think this is an urgent matter. And there will be elections in 2018 where a lot of things will change. And in the meantime, we're making the point about where Americans are.
When you think about doing two things, changing the conversation in America and giving voice to the American people, which are the two things we're really trying to do … we think that people are going to have to react to the fact, react to the voice of the American people.
I want to ask about some of the criticisms, coming not just from Republicans, as you'd expect, but from some Democrats like David Axelrod who suggested this is "a vanity project."
It doesn't surprise me that the political establishment from Washington, D.C., can't imagine the idea of the American people having an independent voice and therefore they can't imagine that we could be better served than we're already being served by our dysfunctional government in our national capital.
Before we ever started this process we knew for sure that the political insiders and the political establishment would absolutely hate the threat to their control and, lo and behold, it's played out exactly as we would have supposed. Since when has an elite given up any of its power willingly?
Is this an effort in some way to lay the groundwork for a future run for office?
One of the things that is now true in American politics — it is reflected in that question — is there is no sense that people might try and do something for its own purpose…. People need to find the hidden agenda and the secret thing. No, actually the people in the United States are threatened and in danger because of this president.
We have the ability for the American people to raise their voice and change the conversation, and if I can be part of the process of putting us back on a prosperous and just path, I will consider that, in a selfish basis, to be something incredibly meaningful for me that I will very much enjoy and be proud of.
You know, throughout American history people have chosen to do the right thing 'cause they felt like it was important. It doesn't have to be about … my resume.