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Analysis: Should He Steyer or Should He Go (His Own Way)?…

Tom Steyer at Chez Josef Wednesday (WMassP&I)

AGAWAM—As political events go, Need to Impeach and its founder and funder Tom Steyer accomplished something Wednesday night. The Californian found an engaged audience. Steyer laid out a convincing case for performing a Trumpectomy upon the White House. His audience posed thoughtful questions about the practicality and the implications of ending Donald Trump’s reign sooner rather than later.

But that was not the stated reason for the hedge fund manager turned climate evangelist’s visit to the 413. Steyer was here to pressure US Representative Richard Neal, as chair of the Ways & Means Committee, to formally demand Trump’s tax returns as promised. It is unclear Steyer’s event will do much to prod Neal to move faster.

Neal’s pace has frustrated people eager to thumb through the 1040s of the most powerful Emmy award also-ran in the world. Given Trump’s business record and his father’s rampant tax fraud, many believe, reasonably, he cheated on his taxes.

“Under what circumstances should we stand up and uphold the laws & values of the United States?” Steyer said of impeaching Trump.

Steyer’s event was part campaign rally, part lecture, part Q&A session. People from his organization announced plans to deliver 90,000 petitions to Neal demanding he act to request Trump’s taxes. Need 2 Impeach is organizing canvasses to encourage others to contact Neal and press him to seek the returns.

If Neal does not request and subpoena Trump’s taxes soon, Steyer argued, interest in them may wane as the 2020 election heats up.

Congressman Ricahrd Neal, center top, chairing a Ways & Mean meeting. (via Twitter/@waysmeanscmte)

Still, many questions seemed more focused on impeaching Trump generally. Few questions actually reached the goal of pushing Neal to demand the documents sooner.

Several attendees worried Trump’s supporters may turn to violence if things go badly for the ex-reality television figure.

One woman worried about impeachment because it would put Vice-President Mike Pence in charge. She cited his homophobia and the impact he could have on her transgender child. Steyer dismissed Pence as a dud. Trump was dangerous, but he was “a talent” unlike other pols.

“One of them is way underestimated and the other is way overestimated,” Steyer said of Trump and Pence respectively.

The region’s electeds and activist corps largely stayed away. Some pols may have been scouting out the event. If they were so, they will be able to maintain deniability.

The audience at Steyer’s event. (WMassP&I)

Public pressure has moved Neal in the past, but only about half of attendees indicated they lived in Neal’s district when Steyer asked. Outside pressure has far less impact. Moreover, Steyer admitted he had no plan to fund a primary challenge to Neal should he never get around to requesting the returns.

“We have not considered that,” Steyer told the press after his presentation. “What we have been trying to do is show,” he continued, “how much support there is for getting the information to the American people.”

But antipathy for Trump does not automatically mean more pressure on Neal. Detractors and skeptics may get louder, but many residents who want the returns may also trust Neal’s studied approach.

Calls for Trump’s ouster wax and wane as his latest outrages crest and break. The subject recently entered the news after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she thought impeaching Trump is “just not worth it.” Steyer, who lives in Pelosi’s San Francisco district, did not hide his displeasure Wednesday night. He invoked the White House and GOP leaders’ approval to prove her position was the wrong one.

The Teapot Dome scandal that consumed Warren Harding’s administration led to the law that is now putting attention on Neal. (via wikipedia)

As for Neal, Steyer and other activists have become frustrated that Neal has not requested Trump and/or his companies’ tax returns. A law passed after Teapot Dome empowers Neal (and his Senate counterpart) to demand Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin turn over any taxpayer’s returns.

Neal announced the day after the 2018 election he would seek Trump’s returns. However, Neal has argued he wants to build an ironclad demand that can overcome what will likely be extreme resistance.

Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, suggested why. Cohen told Rep Jimmy Gomez—who serves on both the Government Oversight and Ways & Means committees—he suspected his former client feared scrutiny would bring about “taxable consequences.”

Steyer had scheduled his event last month at the Cedars in Springfield, but snow postponed it. Instead, the event was held at Chez Josef, an Agawam event space best known for wedding receptions and hosting many area senior proms. Outside, a police officer in a florescent safety jacket directed cars into the cylindrical banquet facility’s parking lot.

Agawam is also arguably Trump country. Along the road to Chez Josef, a Trump flag flapped defiantly in the middle of a stat that overwhelming rejected him. Several localities in the 413 veered Trump-ward in 2016, but the shifts have been uneven.

Trump was the first Republican to win neighboring Westfield in years. However, the city had wobbled left and right across the ballot for decades. It elected its first Democratic state rep in a generation two years before Trump won. Agawam has had a slow, but consistent slide to the right.

Such attitudes constitute a distinct minority in Neal’s district. Thus, activists like Steyer understandably look at the 1st District’s political bent and scratch their heads at Neal’s caution.

Current Massachusetts’s Districts. The 1st is in brown/red. (via wikipedia)

Only 1st District residents on an orange Kool-Aid IV drip doubt Trump’s unfitness for office. Many probably wonder why he never released his returns and suspect more crimes lie therein.

“Oh yes!” one woman exclaimed when Steyer ruminated about whether Trump met the standard for impeachment.

But, however much the Trump administration is a national existential crisis, it hasn’t fundamentally changed the 1st district. Steyer said his organization tailored its message in the 413 to focus on the power Neal has. But outreach does not appear to be molded to fit the nature of the district.

This region mirrors many places Trump won, yet it rejected him handily. Chunks of the #resistance here have no reason to look inward and doubt leaders the way other places have. Whether he deserves it or not, Neal enjoys a trust among constituents that limits Steyer’s ability to mobilize district residents.

In another sense, it is both flattering and sobering the region has received such attention due to its representative’s power. That power is a reminder, though, that the likeliest pressure point on Trump’s taxes is probably not here, but in Washington.

Congressman Richard Neal the day after the 2018 election. (WMassP&I)

A recent Boston Globe article speculated about how long Neal could hold the demands there at bay. In that story, Massachusetts pols largely expressed confidence in the Ways & Means chairman’s balancing act. Still, recent chatter about what the tax request could look like either signal Neal’s demand is near or frustration is growing in the Democratic caucus.

Gomez, the rep who asked Cohen about Trump’s taxes, said in a NowThis video that Ways & Means would hold hearings on historical disclosure of presidential candidates’ tax returns. Gomez could be wrong. He is the second most-junior member of the committee, but such a plan practically screams Neal and his inner historian.

Oddly enough, that may fit Steyer’s desired outcome—to a point.

“We’re at the point where we need the House to hold hearings to expose his criminality,” Steyer said referring to Trump. The next step would be holding a vote on impeachment, but that would be somebody else’s committee.

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