About 100 people whooped, whistled, and gave Tom Steyer a standing ovation when he walked into an Arlington, Va., hotel meeting room Tuesday evening as he continued the launch of an anticipated 30 "town hall" events scheduled across the nation to meet citizens who are eager to see more momentum on Capitol Hill for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
The series of town halls is another phase of the "Need to Impeach" campaign Steyer is funding and directing, which includes a string of television commercials with the former hedge fund manager laying out his case.
"From our standpoint, the urgency, there are a number of reasons to be urgent [about impeachment], but the biggest reason is, he refuses to protect the United States of America," Steyer said in his opening remarks, referencing Russia's meddling in the 2016 elections.
While those gathered made their irritation and dissatisfaction with President Trump plain, the discussion was notable for the many times frustration spilled over to elected Democrats.
"I think for the Democrats, obviously … I mean, the representative of this district, Don Beyer, is not in favor of impeachment, even though I think there are 90,000 people from this district who signed our petition," Steyer said.
"This is a heavily Democratic, progressive district. So I would say to you, I don't know that much about Congressman Beyer, I'm sure he's a good person. I think you guys should ask him for the reason. I think it's a very legitimate question as constituents to ask, ‘If this is the number one issue of the day, what is it about this president that makes you want to put up with this kind of lawlessness for another day?'"
Rep. Beyer, a Democrat, has represented Virginia's 8th district since 2015.
The second person to address a question to Steyer echoed similar themes.
"Our representative has failed to vote to impeach Donald Trump, and that really makes me angry when I see all this mounting evidence pointing to impeachable offenses committed by Donald Trump," said a young man who said his name was Gregor.
"He's failed to vote for impeachment, and some Democrats have even spoken out against impeachment, like Nancy Pelosi. She said it's too early to impeach Donald Trump. It's not too early, that's the truth," Gregor said, eventually asking Steyer why Democrats weren't running with the impeachment issue.
"I actually think that the Democrats' attitude on this is consistent with their attitude on a number of other issues," Steyer replied. "And so, for basketball fans, I view this as going into the ‘four corners' defense, you just kind of stop the game, and hope that nobody scores again."
Steyer addressed his frustration with Democrats again later in the evening. Having just riffed on what he believed were the benefits of universal health care, Steyer said, "There are people who are elected officials within the Democratic party who are trying to figure out how to play poker, and that's in their way of telling the truth because they've gotten so out of practice of telling hard truths because they think in the short term it’s not going to pay off."
Another person in the audience worried openly that the special counsel investigation led by former FBI director Robert Mueller would be squelched, but not necessarily by Mueller being fired.
"A lot of us are putting our faith in the Mueller investigation thinking that when that comes out, when the truth comes out, that it'll turn the November 2018 election," a man self-identified as James began. "It seems though, that Mueller is, by law, required to present his findings to Congress, which worries me. Is there any chance that that gets squashed, and we never find out what really happened?"
"Yes," Steyer responded firmly, before going into a fuller explanation of what he believed were "arcane rules" about the difference between a special counsel versus a congressional investigation similar to the Watergate hearings.
Eventually the questions and answers migrated to other political and policy issues, including the Second Amendment, mental health, free markets, health care, fake news, poverty, education, racial issues, and foreign policy concerns like North Korea.
However, among the wide array of issues brought up in the first 75 to 80 minutes of the town hall, Steyer's other signature topic of climate change was noticeably absent.
More than an hour into the town hall, one man asked the California billionaire how the United States could make serious political change Steyer had been advocating "when we absolutely deify free-market capitalism?"
Steyer responded by saying that America had regulated markets, and therefore had not had free-market capitalism in years.
"As far as I can tell, free-market capitalism is, ‘Let me change the rules so I can make more money,'" Steyer quipped.
The frustration with politicians from both parties eventually led to some in the audience to occasionally cry out, "Third party!" Another questioner in the audience asked if Steyer would "team up" with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, although the exact definition of what was meant by that wasn't explicitly stated.