Elections

Steyer takes a shot at Feinstein, ‘very much looking at the Senate seat’

Tom Steyer, right, shakes hands with state Sen. Ed Hernandez, following a bill signing at the Capitol in Sacramento Oct. 9, 2017.
Tom Steyer, right, shakes hands with state Sen. Ed Hernandez, following a bill signing at the Capitol in Sacramento Oct. 9, 2017. AP

Tom Steyer, the liberal California billionaire donor who wants President Donald Trump impeached, took a broadside at U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and may run against her, a close associate said Wednesday.

The associate said Steyer feels the need to challenge the Democratic establishment to stand tougher against Trump and is “very much looking at the Senate seat” held by fellow Democrat Feinstein as a way to accomplish that.

Steyer’s criticism of Feinstein came in a letter to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a day after the 84-year-old incumbent had announced her bid for a fifth full term in 2018.

Steyer urged candidates to support impeachment, writing “this is not a time for ‘patience.’” “Donald Trump is not fit for office,” he continued. “It is clear for all to see that there is zero reason to believe ‘he can be a good president.’”

At an August event in San Francisco, Feinstein had urged “patience” with Trump and suggested that there was still time for the Republican to “be a good president.”

The letter offers a look at Steyer’s thinking as he contemplates the race, which even with his considerable wealth would be a tough endeavor given Feinstein’s decades of work on a range of policy issues that endear her to a diverse coalition of interests across California.

Running against Feinstein would put him at odds with a Democratic establishment that he has spent years courting and cultivating though hundreds of millions in donations and direct policy advocacy. Within hours of her re-election announcement, Feinstein had collected the support of Sen. Kamala Harris and most of the leading candidates for California governor including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. The next day she won the endorsement of the United Farm Workers, which cited “a decade of leveraging her clout in the U.S. Senate to champion farm workers.”

Such early jockeying is seen as crucial in statewide races to discourage high-caliber, would-be challengers from getting in.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who held a fundraiser for Feinstein on Tuesday, suggested the idea of taking on the senator was “ripped from the corrosive playbook of our enemies,” a comparison to the right’s challenge of incumbent Republicans.

The tactic “plays into the hands of people who want to divide us, who want us to spend our energy fighting each other who who is leading our party, for taking out incumbents, rather than actually flipping the House that could literally stop the worst parts of the Trump agenda in its tracks” Garcetti said in an interview with The Bee.

“Quite frankly, I think there’s a bunch of ageism against” her, he added. “Senator Feinstein at her age is doubly effective than most people at 30.”

Others considering a run for Feinstein’s seat include state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, a longtime Steyer ally on environmental policy who must leave office next year because of term limits.

This is not Steyer’s first time considering a Senate campaign. In 2016, when Sen. Barbara Boxer decided against a re-election run, Steyer told potential supporters he would commit to serving only one term if he could not reach goals dealing with the environment, economy and education within six years.

He did not go forward, and Harris easily defeated fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez in the race.

In his letter DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, Steyer asks that he make public his position on impeaching Trump and call for his removal from office. Steyer acknowledges that the question would become real only if Democrats retake the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“This is not a time for the establishment to act like the establishment always does – with “patience” or “caution,” Steyer wrote. “Instead of the establishment’s “summer soldiers,” we need those in office to recognize that these are unprecedented times and that Trump represents a clear and present danger to the Republican and make clear where we stand for Democrats voting in 2018.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been too supportive of the Trump administration, argue activists who want her to support a single-payer health care system and resist Republican initiatives more aggressively.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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