That's one reason his skeptics see the impeachment ads, which feature Steyer speaking directly into the camera, soberly laying out his case for "impeaching and removing a dangerous president," as a ploy to raise his profile and prospects, or at the very least compile a mega-database of potential supporters. Steyer faced similar scrutiny when he starred in ads for the successful 2016 California ballot initiative that raised tobacco taxes to help fund healthcare.
Steyer insists the impeachment campaign is not related to his political aspirations, and he dismissed the skepticism about his motives. He said the Democrats who are preaching caution are "going against the will of their constituents" and will have to explain themselves as midterm election day approaches in 2018.
"We feel like the American people are on our side," Steyer said. "This is an attempt to get around some of the convoluted parts of the Washington establishment and let people speak about how they feel. If that upsets people, they have to figure out why."
Steyer said he has not discussed his calls for impeachment with Pelosi. Pelosi told the Los Angeles Times in October that she was urging Democrats to be more measured, saying impeachment should only be about "facts and the law" -- not policy disagreements. According to a report in Politico, Pelosi also told Democratic leaders in Congress that she considers the impeachment campaign an unneeded distraction. The San Francisco congresswoman wants Democrats to focus on policy clashes with Trump and the Republican-led Congress. She sees that as the best strategy for Democrats to retake control of the House next year.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., drafted articles of impeachment against Trump last summer, but his effort hasn't made a modicum of headway in the Republican-controlled House and, when it was introduced, faced resistance from Pelosi and Democrats who considered it premature and believed Trump would "self-impeach." As House speaker, Pelosi fought the failed efforts to impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney during their second terms.
California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman is carefully choosing his words. He praised Steyer for giving a voice to the "anger and the frustration of Democrats and progressives and independents all across the county."
But Bauman, channeling Pelosi, said Democrats might also benefit from staying on the sidelines. Trump is already facing heat over special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of contacts between Russia and Trump's campaign, and because of the GOP's failure so far to pass any of its major policy priorities.
"Leader Pelosi's point is that sometimes when a train is coming ... barreling at your opponent, the best thing to do is stand out of the way," Bauman said. "Donald Trump will continue to undermine Donald Trump."
As part of his push for impeachment, Steyer also sent letters to Democratic members of Congress calling on them to "make public your positions on the impeachment of Donald Trump and call for his removal from office."
Steyer's letter sent a message from one of the party's most generous and active donors: He has no use for Democrats who preach patience or caution. The letter ended with a not-too-subtle warning that lawmakers' responses would "make it clear where we all stand for Democrats voting in 2018."