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Ahead Of Primary Season, Democratic Presidential Hopeful Tom Steyer Discusses Campaign


On Monday, after what has seemed like an endless windup, Iowa Democrats will have the first chance to weigh in on who they think should be the Democratic nominee for president. If polls are right, the winner of the Iowa caucus is more likely to be Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or former Vice President Joe Biden than our next guest, billionaire businessman Tom Steyer. Steyer entered the race late, in August of last year, and raised his national profile largely by calling for President Trump's impeachment.

Tom Steyer joins me now. Welcome to the program.

TOM STEYER: Mary Louise, it's great to be with you.

KELLY: I need to start with the day's news - impeachment and the impeachment trial, which looks as though it may be drawing to an end. As someone who has been calling for President Trump's impeachment for more than two years, I wonder what your thoughts are today.

STEYER: Well, as you know, Mary Louise, I started the Need to Impeach movement. But what we're seeing in this trial is not a trial because what we've been calling for is public testimony on TV of administration officials under oath so the American people can see the truth.

KELLY: I have to ask, was launching impeachment proceedings a mistake if an acquitted Donald Trump ends up being a stronger and more formidable opponent for whoever gets the Democratic nomination?

STEYER: No, it was not a mistake. It was the opposite. What 8 1/2 million people were saying is, we need to have one law in the United States. And we need to hold the most corrupt president in American history accountable under the law like every other American citizen. But what we've seen out of this sham trial is that the Republicans have gone to a place so dark that they won't allow witnesses and testimony in a trial. That's the first time ever. There is really no place for compromise and middle ground with a party that's walked away from the law and the Constitution.

KELLY: I should let people listening know that we have reached you - you're on the campaign trail. You're in Davenport, Iowa, campaigning for votes for Monday night. But the polls look not promising, if I can just put it bluntly, for your campaign there. How do you plan to move forward?

STEYER: Well, Mary Louise, there was a poll this week - I think two days ago - that had me at an average of 17% in the four early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. I need to do well enough in Iowa to come out of here with momentum.

KELLY: What would that look like for you? What would well enough be?

STEYER: I think it's beating expectations. But I think that there's a bigger point here, which is whoever is going to be the Democratic candidate is going to have to appeal to a diverse coalition. And I'm sure you know as well that I'm doing really well in Nevada and South Carolina.

KELLY: Should billionaires have outsized influence in U.S. presidential elections?

STEYER: Look; what I think matters in these elections, Mary Louise, two things - one is message. Do you have something different to say that resonates with the American people? And do you have a history of showing that you, in fact, are the right person to make it happen? That's what makes people attracted to you and to support you.

KELLY: And I appreciate that, but to my question - because I hear you now, and I've heard you on the debate stage working to play down your incredible wealth - but if you didn't have it, you wouldn't be able to mount a presidential campaign that you are running.

STEYER: I'm not...

KELLY: Is it right that the thing that makes you most viable as a candidate is vast personal wealth?

STEYER: I'm not saying money doesn't matter, but it by no means is determinative. What really determines in the end is, do you, in fact, have something differential to say, and do people trust and relate to you and feel that your history supports the idea that you're the person that they can get behind?

KELLY: Michael Bloomberg has said he is open to spending up to $1 billion to beat Donald Trump even if he is not the nominee. Where are you on thinking about that? Would you spend big to support the Democratic nominee if the Democratic nominee is not you?

STEYER: I've said from the beginning I will support the Democratic nominee whether it's me or not. But I've also - you should know - look; I started one of the largest grassroots organizations in the United States in 2018. NextGen America did the largest youth voter mobilization in American history. And together with our partners in the labor movement over the last two cycles, we've knocked on over 25 million doors to talk to...

KELLY: Understood. And I understand...

STEYER: So I'm going to keep doing that.

KELLY: ...You saying you support whoever the nominee is.

STEYER: But I'm going to keep doing that.

KELLY: Yet, would you put your money behind that nominee?

STEYER: But I'm telling you, I'm going to keep running those grassroots operations. I'm running them right now. I'm not allowed to run, you know, organize and direct them. But I'm supporting them. So in answer to your question, it's not of what I'm going to do. I'm already doing it.

KELLY: Mr. Steyer, thank you so much for your time.

STEYER: Thank you, Mary Louise. It's a pleasure to talk to you.

KELLY: Tom Steyer joining us from the campaign trail in Davenport, Iowa. He is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.