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Hedge fund manager, billionaire philanthropist, and Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer.

Credit: Alec Druggan

Presidential candidate and billionaire financier Tom Steyer discussed climate change, economic fairness, and immigration with an audience of about 50 students and community members at a Penn Democrats event Monday evening. 

After the event at Irvine Auditorium, Steyer sat down for an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian in which he laid out his plans to combat climate change, boost civic engagement among young people, and take on President Donald Trump.

The hedge fund manager-turned-presidential candidate, who appeared at another Penn Dems event in February 2018, is currently polling at a RealClearPolitics average of 1.0%. 

Despite these low national numbers, Steyer has spent extensively on local television advertisements in early-voting primary states and has qualified for the fifth Democratic debate in November. Steyer is the candidate who most recently entered the 2020 race, having announced his presidential bid in July.

Steyer has gained media attention for his large ad buys in the 2020 election, spending tens of millions of dollars of his own money on his presidential bid. On Monday, NBC News reported that his spending on TV ads has nearly reached $30 million.

At his Penn appearance in early 2018, Steyer urged the public to sign a petition to demand Trump's impeachment. As an early adopter of the impeachment cause, Steyer has seen his position become mainstream in the Democratic party in recent months.

Steyer said he is passionate about addressing climate change because of his desire to assist young people and save the planet — not out of political expediency.

Credit: Alec Druggan

Steyer called fellow billionaire President Donald Trump a "fake businessman" and a "fraud." 

"I'm not talking about climate change to be political. I'm not doing it to please young people," Steyer told the DP. "What we could be setting in motion, if we're not smart, is totally scary."

Steyer also said he hoped the climate would get more coverage at future debates, calling the absence of environmental questions in past debates a "disservice" to Americans. The Democratic National Committee has drawn the ire of progressive activists for refusing to hold a debate devoted solely to the issue.

"At the last debate, I brought up climate [change] two or three times. I think Bernie mentioned it once in passing, and that was it," Steyer said. "It's priority one."

Steyer also emphasized his business credentials as a reason he could beat Trump in a head-to-head matchup, calling the 45th president and fellow billionaire a "fake businessman" and a "fraud." 

"He's going to try to run [his campaign] on the economy," Steyer said. "If there's anyone on the Democratic side who has the expertise to go toe-to-toe with him on the economy, it's me."

Steyer singled out Trump's 2017 tax cuts and trade war with China as policies he saw as especially harmful. Steyer said the tax cuts, which lowered the corporate tax rate, cut income taxes for the majority of Americans, and capped state and local tax deductions, unfairly benefited wealthy Americans.

Credit: Alec Druggan

Steyer said civic participation from young people is critical to addressing important issues and creating a better America.

"The tax plan he put through is the biggest giveaway to rich people and corporations in America," Steyer said of the 2017 tax cuts. "It's a direct attack on every working American."

The candidate was equally harsh on Trump's imposition of tariffs on major United States trading partners, such as China and the European Union.

"[Trump's] trade war is a failure, hurting working Americans, hurting businesses, killing farmers, a straight-up mistake," Steyer said. "He refuses to acknowledge it."

Despite his pessimism about Trump's current policies, the candidate said young people were the "linchpin" for solving many of America's problems, and that his youth-centered advocacy group NextGen America demonstrates his long-time commitment to addressing the concerns of young voters.

"NextGen America is really focused on mobilizing young people," Steyer said. "It's not new to me about how important young people are."

Steyer added civic participation from young people was critical to addressing important issues and creating a better America.

"If we can break the corporate stranglehold on our democracy and stabilize the climate, [young people] are in the best position of anyone ever," Steyer said. "If your generation really turns out and votes comparably with the rest of America, we're going to win everything."