The Slatest

Tom Steyer: Democrats Shouldn’t Bother Trying to Work With Republicans. They Should Disgrace Them.

Tom Steyer.
Tom Steyer. Josh Edelson/Getty Images

Like most Democrats, Tom Steyer is nervous the day before the election. The forecasts for Democrats, particularly in the House and governor’s races, look comfortable, trending further in Democrats’ favor in the campaign’s closing days. But after the scarring of 2016, he doesn’t want to get too confident.

“There’s something we know and something we don’t know,” Steyer, the billionaire Bay Area Democrat who’s invested about $120 million this cycle trying to boost youth turnout and elect Democrats, told me in an interview Monday.

“We can be pretty sure that the people we’re talking to are going to turn out,” he said of the young voters one of his organizations, NextGen America, has been trying to reach.

The unknown that keeps him nervous, and over which he has little control, is that “we don’t know what the other side is going to do. From what we can tell, it sounds like the other side is turning out.”

If the forecasters are right, though, and Democrats do take the House, Steyer doesn’t want to see the new House Democratic majority waste its time trying to forge consensus with congressional Republicans. He wants a rigorous investigation of the administration, the appropriate justice meted out, and a general disgracing of the Republican Party.

“They have shifted the conversation to places that are so crazy that there’s really no other side to the conversation,” he said. “There’s a question here about changing the frame.”

Republicans, he observed, are not in the “range of reason” on policy issues, and thus not viable negotiating partners. When I brought up the idea of an infrastructure bill, an issue on which roughly 100 percent of competitive Democratic candidates are running, he dismissed it as politically unworkable and small-bore given the “multiple crises” the country is facing.

“It’s literally ridiculous,” he said of the generic talk around “infrastructure” that doesn’t specify what kind of “infrastructure” would be built. “I literally consider this to be less than baby talk. Do I think that this administration, which denies climate [change] and is in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry, is going to propose infrastructure that I think would be a good investment in even the medium term of the United States of America? Color me ridiculously skeptical.”

Instead, he said, a House Democratic majority should focus less on trying to work with Republicans and more on oversight, investigation, and repercussions.

“The one thing [a Democratic majority] can control is oversight,” he said. “And then to me the question is: What can they do to punish people? What can they actively do so that there is a punishment, some cost, for lying to Congress, for breaking the law, for breaking your word to the Constitution? That’s the question. And that’s what impeachment is.”

Steyer said there’s no use in trying to work with Republicans when there’s not just a political crisis afoot, but also a climate crisis that’s worsening by the minute. I asked him, then, if Republicans like Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who introduced a carbon tax bill earlier this year, should be rewarded if they do take a stance against their party on climate change.

“No,” he said, without hesitating.

“I’m sure Carlos Curbelo supported the president on 100 other horrible issues,” he continued. “I think, to have someone who’s now acknowledging climate and putting forward some tepid, inadequate response, which he knows can’t possibly pass for political purposes—no.”

One might think that a billionaire who’s spent years building a ground-level political organization across the country, and who’s staking out a firm left-wing strategic position that Republicans aren’t to be negotiated with, only defeated, could be laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign of his own in 2020. I asked him.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” he said. “I know I’ll be involved. I know I’ll be working full time. But I don’t know exactly what the best thing to do is. Let me see what happens tomorrow and think about it.”