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Power Up: A liberal fantasy no longer? Tom Steyer’s Need to Impeach campaign comes full circle with House vote

with Brent D. Griffiths

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The Campaign

ONCE UPON A FAIRY TALE …: When Tom Steyer launched an eight-figure television ad campaign to impeach President Trump in 2017, Democratic leaders urged the California businessman and megadonor to tone it down and spend his money elsewhere.

Now, almost exactly two years later, what was once derided as Steyer’s liberal fantasy is coming true: House Democrats will cast their first vote today on an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. 

And to Steyer, now a 2020 presidential candidate struggling to register in the polls as a relative latecomer to a crowded field, today's vote is an affirmation of his political instincts -- and his long-shot presidential bid based on the idea that the current White House occupant and his administration is corrupt.

While Steyer said in an interview with Power Up he'd never gloat to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — one of the Need to Impeach campaign's most prominent critics — he is having an "I told you so" moment. 

  • “I believe [Pelosi] ... repeatedly said what a mistake it was,” Steyer told us, “that it was dangerous” for Democrats going into the 2018 election. 
  • Washington's political operatives and insiders, Steyer added, were “worried that I didn’t know what I was doing also because they thought we would destroy everything by doing 'Need to impeach.' Just saying.” 
  • By the numbers: Instead, Steyer rattled off just how much of an impact his ad campaign boosted turnout in the midterms, claiming that 80 percent of those who had signed the public petition voted. He also boasted about the effect of his other advocacy group that organizes young people to vote, NextGen America. “Young people turned out at record levels." 
  • And he says it'll have an impact beyond today's vote: "I’m a grassroots person — for us to have the kind of win we’re going to have in 2020, we need grassroots. It's all turnout." 

A campaign boost?: Steyer acknowledged that the issue of impeachment is not exactly a priority for voters he’s meeting on the campaign trail day in and day out. But during a brief stop at home yesterday to get “some clean underwear and socks” before heading to Iowa, Steyer told us that the impeachment milestone validates his credentials as an outsider willing to eschew Washington's consultant class and take on party leadership. 

  • “People recognize that I was willing to stand up to the establishment,” Steyer told Power Up of his push for Democrats to support impeaching Trump. “And when I talk to people — and let me say: the more marginalized they are in our society, the more they appreciate it … When I say I'm going to take on corruption, people realize that he is actually telling the truth.” 

Steyer dismissed concerns that his money might be better spent on other Democratic priorities — such as congressional races or boosting youth voter registration — going into 2020 than on his personal presidential campaign. “Look, equivalent to what we would have spent and what we have spent in the past in those areas,” Steyer said about his continued investment in Need to Impeach and NextGen America. 

  • Steyer has promised to still contribute $50 million through 2020 to ensure both organizations “fulfill their missions,” even though he stepped down from his leadership post. 
  • But his spending on his own campaign's digital and television ads dwarfs that of any other Democratic presidential candidate. As of this week, Steyer has dropped more than $35 million on ads in support of his candidacy, per CNN's David Wright and Chris Cillizza. 
  • And overall, Steyer “has spent $47.6 million dollars of his own money in 84 days on his long shot presidential bid, according to FEC filings, making him one of the biggest self-funded presidential candidates in American history,” Time Magazine's Charlotte Alter reports.

All about the hearings: Steyer also denied that his campaign money would be better spent on ads to help Democrats refute ads that the GOP is pushing to discredit candidates and the impeachment inquiry, many of which contain baseless claims. The next best step to influence public opinion, Steyer said, is “televised hearings — not intermediated but direct information.” 

  • “This process is the restoration of democracy,” Steyer told us. “I mean people keep acting like [impeachment] is an inside the Beltway thing — I couldn’t disagree more. This is a 50 state thing. This is the people of the U.S. getting to have our voice heard … it's not what a bunch of people in D.C. think. It’s what a bunch of people in Boise, and Portland and Tuscaloosa think.” 

ABOUT TODAY'S VOTE: Lawmakers will be forced to go “on record in support or opposition of the investigation and dictating the rules for its next phase,” our colleagues John Hudson, Karoun Demirjian and Mike DeBonis reportedAs Republicans and the White House continue to insist the impeachment inquiry is illegitimate and rail against process, Pelosi is holding the vote to “affirm” the probe now in its sixth week and “grant due process to the president and his attorney, countering a repeated criticism by Trump that he has been treated unfairly,” per John, Karoun and Mike. 

  • “We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives,” Pelosi said in a letter to Democrats. “Nobody is above the law.” (The White House said earlier this month that the lack of a formal House vote was grounds not to cooperate in the inquiry, although neither the Constitution nor House rules require such a vote, my colleagues note.) 

  • Moderates have come around: When Pelosi first polled her caucus about holding a formal floor vote on the inquiry earlier in October, her moderate colleagues resisted the idea. By yesterday morning, those same members told Pelosi in a closed-door meeting that a formal floor vote was okay by them: “The striking turnabout reflects Democrats’ growing confidence that the public is behind their fact-finding mission into Mr. Trump’s dealing with Ukraine. It comes after weeks of bombshell revelations confirmed an anonymous whistleblower’s assertion that Mr. Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine as part of a pressure campaign to enlist the country to smear his political rivals,” the New York Times's Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports.

  • “I’ve said from the beginning that anything that makes this process as fair and as transparent as possible is good for me and good for the voters,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who flipped a GOP seat, told Stolberg. 

The Investigations

BOLTON IS ASKED TO TESTIFY: Democratic lawmakers are now reaching into the top ranks of Trump's White House for witnesses in their impeachment inquiry by calling former national security adviser John Bolton, our colleagues Elise Viebeck, Karoun Demirjian and Rachael Bade report.

  • Why Bolton: He “could offer direct testimony about the president’s alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine for dirt on political rivals in exchange for U.S. military aid and a meeting with the president,” our colleagues write. If you recall, Bolton was so disturbed by efforts to get Ukraine to open investigation into Trump's political rivals he called it an illicit “drug deal.”
  • One of Bolton's deputies is scheduled to testify today: Timothy Morrison, who we just found out will be leaving his post as the top Russia official on the National Security Council, “would be one of the highest-ranking White House officials to provide evidence in the probe — could provide crucial corroboration of an alleged quid pro quo, in which other witnesses have suggested Trump held back promised military aid to Ukraine until its leaders committed to launch investigations that could help Trump politically,” our colleagues write. 

MORE ON THE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY: We now know who locked down the July 25 call transcript: White House lawyer John Eisenberg decided shortly after Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to put the rough transcript on a server “normally reserved for code-word-level ­intelligence programs and top-secret sources and methods,” our colleagues Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Greg Miller reported last night.

  • What happened: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine adviser at the White House, listened in on Trump's call and was so disturbed by it that he immediately rushed to Eisenberg, who handles national security issues, two people familiar with Vindman’s account to lawmakers this week told our colleagues. Eisenberg's decision “is at odds with long-standing White House protocol: moving a transcript of the call to a highly classified server and restricting access to it.”
  • Concerns were well-known by then: “By the time Vindman came to him in late July, Eisenberg was already familiar with concerns among White House officials about the administration’s attempts to pressure Ukraine for political purposes,” our colleagues write.

Bill Taylor is reportedly up to return for a public hearing: The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine offered a detailed deposition behind closed doors, but CNN's Kylie Atwood, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report that Taylor would return to testify publicly if he is asked to do so.

Trump's Russia envoy pick distances himself: John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, said he didn't think a president demanding investigations into domestic political opponents “would be in accord with our values,” the New York Times's Catie Edmondson reports. Senate Democrats were largely successful in turning Sullivan's confirmation hearing to be the next Russia ambassador into a proxy battle over impeachment.

  • Sullivan also confirmed a smear campaign against Yovanovitch: “While Mr. Sullivan did not reveal significant new information, he testified on camera, and became the highest ranking official to publicly affirm that former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had served 'admirably and capably,'" the Times reports. “He also went on the record with his belief that Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani helped to coordinate an effort to denigrate her.”

Vindman gets some big-name backers: Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the Purple Heart recipient and Iraq War veteran just a day after Vindman testified privately to lawmakers. “He is a professional, competent, patriotic, and loyal officer. He has made an extraordinary contribution to the security of our Nation in both peacetime & combat,” Dunford told CNN's Barbara Starr. The Army also said it “fully supported” him, per Task & Purpose's Jeff Schogol and Haley Britzky.

Outside the Beltway

TWITTER TO BAN ALL POLITICAL ADS: Twitter "said it would ban all advertisements about political candidates, elections and hot-button policy issues such as abortion and immigration, a significant shift that comes in response to growing concerns that politicians are seizing on the vast reach of social media to deceive voters ahead of the 2020 election," our colleagues Tony Romm and Isaac Stanley-Becker report. The new rules will apply worldwide and be published by mid-November so they could take effect later in the month.

  • What a subtweet: CEO Jack Dorsey announced the decision via tweet just as Facebook was about to unveil its third-quarter earnings report. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckberg has defended his company's decision that "essentially allows politicians to lie in ads," our colleagues write.

The reaction: "The change drew a mixed reception, with some critics highlighting that it would not affect what users can tweet and share on their own," our colleagues write.

  • From the left: "Teddy Goff, who served as President Obama’s digital director in 2012 and as senior adviser to Hillary Clinton in 2016, said any update by Twitter that does not address the 'organic and algorithmic spread of hate speech and discrimination and dishonesty'  is insufficient."
  • Trump's campaign manager slammed the move: "Twitter just walked away from hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue, a very dumb decision for their stockholders," Brad Parscale said in a statement, adding in a claim that the move was designed to silence conservaties.

But political ads are just not a key part of Twitter's bottom line: Political ad spending amounted to less than $3 million during the 2018 midterm elections, our colleagues write. "For example, Trump has run not a single ad on Twitter over the past seven days, while he’s spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on Facebook over the same period, according to the companies’ archives."

At the Pentagon

GENERAL SAYS ISIS LIKELY TO ADJUST AFTER BAGHDADI’S DEATH: “A high-risk raid last week that resulted in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is expected to temporarily disrupt the group’s activities, but the militants are likely to regroup and may attempt revenge attacks against the United States, a senior U.S. commander said,” our colleague Missy Ryan reports.

  • Key quote: “It will take some time to reestablish someone to lead the organization, and during that period of time, their actions may be a little bit disjointed,” Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie Jr., who heads the U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon. “We don’t see a bloodless future, because unfortunately this ideology is going to be out there.”
  • Footage of the raid is released for the first time: “Grainy black-and-white video aired as McKenzie addressed reporters showed a team of Special Operations troops, who were drawn in part from the Army’s secretive Delta Force, approaching a walled compound near the village of Barisha, in an area close to the Turkish border that is rife with assorted extremist groups,” our colleague writes. (You can watch the footage here)
  • No Pentagon officials have confirmed Trump’s account of a “crying” Baghdadi: McKenzie “said he could not confirm Trump’s description of Baghdadi ‘screaming, crying and whimpering’ in the minutes before he detonated his vest,” Politico’s Wesley Morgan reports. “He crawled into a hole with two small children and blew himself up,” McKenzie said when asked about Trump’s characterization. “I’m not able to confirm anything else about his last seconds. I’m just not able to confirm that one way or another.”

Today in declassified dog news: A name, and... a White House visit? 

The People

THE FIGHT IS FINISHED: "Yes, they did it again. The unbelievable, late-game-dancing, break-their-foes’-hearts Nationals did it again,"  our colleague Thomas Boswell writes from Houston of the Nats 6-2 Game 7 win over the once heavily-favored Houston Astros. "What is the word above 'miracle' in sports? Maybe, with the years, an amazing streak, weeks and weeks of defying odds and believing in one another will just come to be known as “doing a Nationals.

  • More from our colleague Barry Svrluga"How to doubt a group that was 19-31 in May yet played the final game of the World Series? There was a wild-card victory in which they trailed in the eighth inning, a division series in which they needed to win the final two games, and the sixth game of this series, in which they trailed in the fifth," he writes. "So by Wednesday, we had learned what this team was about. There is no doubt. There is only hope."

The reaction:

  • Zimmerman: "That’s what we’ve done all year,” said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the longest-tenured player. “What a group of guys. It’s unbelievable. Everything I could have imagined — and more.”
  • Rizzo: “That’s how this group plays,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “Even when things were bad, even when it seemed like there was no way out back in the spring, they were total pros. They never wavered. They had something special.”

The view from baseball's capital: "When the fight was finished and the Nationals had wrapped up their first World Series title some 1,400 miles away in Houston, the District screamed. And cried. And bellowed into a rainy night," our colleague Rick Maese writes of the scene in Nats Park and around the District.

  •  The parade is scheduled for Saturday starting at 2 p.m. (Details here)

A FALL CLASSIC TO REMEMBER: The Nats and Stephen Strasburg didn't just make history, they defied it at every turn.

  • No team in the World Series's 115-year history had ever won by just winning on the road. (Per our colleagues)
  • But forget that, out of 1,420 total best-of-seven playoff series across MLB, NHL or NBA history the road team had never won the first six games, let alone seven. (Per Fox Sports)
  • No team in MLB history had ever won three winner-take-all games in a single postseason. (Per ESPN)
  • And no No.1 overall pick had ever won the World Series MVP. (Per ESPN)

And a season for the ages: "And so ended the longest season in Washington baseball history — one that began on a chilly Thursday in late March, cratered in late May, caught fire in the summer months, tested hearts in September and careened through October like a wobble-wheeled wagon set free at the top of a steep hill. This Nationals season was a wild, screaming, impossibly long ride, one that carried them all the way to the doorstep of November," our colleague Dave Sheinin writes.