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Senators Sold Stocks Before Coronavirus Threats Crashed Market

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  • U.S. Senator Richard Burr has faced public scrutiny after records revealed that he sold thousands of dollars worth of stock prior to the market’s crash in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Burr was also reported to have warned a small party of the severity of the issue while the Trump administration was delivering a much more relaxed message to the rest of the nation.  
  • Several other U.S. senators including Kelly Loeffler, Dianne Feinstein, and James Inhofe also made stock sales prior to the escalation of the U.S. health crisis.
  • Some are concerned that the lawmakers might have exploited their early access to special information by selling stocks, but all have denied this is the case.   
  • Amid criticisms, Burr invited the Senate Ethics Committee to review his sales to promote full transparency.

Burr in Hot Water

Several U.S. Senators have come under fire after public records revealed they sold personal stocks just before the market crashed under the pressure of the coronavirus pandemic.

Documents show that Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and his wife sold hundreds of thousands worth of stocks in 33 separate transactions in mid-February. Collectively the stocks were worth between $628,000 and $1.7 million, but exact numbers are not clear as the records display the transactions in ranges. Some of the stocks sold were holdings in a hotel and resort line that has since lost two-thirds of its value. 

Just days before Burr made these transactions, he wrote an op-ed for Fox News saying that “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.” 

Burr serves as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a position in which he receives regular briefings on safety threats to the country. According to Reuters, the committee was getting updates about the outbreak on a daily basis around the time Burr sold his stocks. Senate aides told NBC that the reports the committee received in January and February included non-public information about the coronavirus that remains classified. 

On Feb. 27, two weeks after Burr sold his stocks, he spoke to a small, nonpartisan group at a social club in Washington, D.C. delivering a concerning message. 

“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” he said, according to a recording obtained by NPR. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

The same day, Donald Trump downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 to the rest of the country, saying, “it’s going to disappear.” 

“It could get worse before it gets better,” Trump said on Feb. 27. “It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens.”

NPR reported that among the attendees at the luncheon where Burr spoke were companies and organizations that contributed to Burr’s election campaign several years ago.

On his Twitter page, Burr called the NPR story a “tabloid-style hit piece.” He addressed the accusations in a string of tweets, saying the luncheon was held by the North Carolina State Society.

“It was publicly advertised and widely attended,” Burr wrote on Thursday. “NPR knew, but did not report, that attendees also included many non-members, bipartisan congressional staff, and representatives from the governor’s office.”  

“Every state has a state society. They aren’t ‘secretive’ or ‘high-dollar donor’ organizations,” Burr added. “They’re great civic institutions that bring people in D.C. together for events, receptions, and lunches.”

Burr’s representatives also addressed the criticism he has faced.

“Senator Burr has been banging the drum about the importance of public health preparedness for more than 20 years,” spokesperson Caitlin Carroll told NBC. “His message has always been, and continues to be, that we must be prepared to protect American lives in the event of a pandemic or bio-attack.”

Carroll also addressed Burr’s stock sales. 

“Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak,” Carroll said.

More Senators Under Fire

Burr was not the only one to sell big stocks right before the market dropped. According to public records, a handful of other senators did the same. 

Records reveal that Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and her husband, a chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, reported millions of dollars worth of stock sales across 27 transactions beginning at the end of January. Loeffler began selling stock on Jan. 24, the day she was apart of a Senate Health Committee private briefing with updates on the coronavirus.

Like Burr, Loeffler sold sales in companies that have suffered from the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, she and her husband bought between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of stock in a teleworking software company that has spiked in value as more citizens are working remotely.

“I want to set the record straight: This is a ridiculous & baseless attack,” Loeffler wrote in a tweet. “I don’t make investment decisions for my portfolio. Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement.”

On Jan. 27, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) sold as much as $400,000 worth of stock in multiple companies including Apple, PayPal, and a real estate company. In two separate transactions on Jan. 31 and Feb. 18, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and her husband sold $1.5 million to $6 million worth of stock in a bio-technology company. Feinstein also serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Inhofe and Feinstein’s financial moves seem to be routine. Both have said their investments are made without their involvement and noted they were not at the Senate Health Committee briefing on Jan. 24.

“Reports that I sold any assets are incorrect, as are reports that I was at a Jan. 24 briefing on coronavirus, which I was unable to attend,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Under Senate rules, I report my husband’s financial transactions. I have no input into his decisions. My husband in January and February sold shares of a cancer therapy company. This company is unrelated to any work on the coronavirus and the sale was unrelated to the situation.”

Calls for Resignation

Under the STOCK act, it is illegal for members of Congress to participate in trading based on nonpublic information. After the recent reports came out yesterday, multiple figures questioned the ethics of Sen. Burr’s stock sales and called upon him to step down from his position. 

Texas Democrat Rep. Joaquin Castro addressed the controversy on Twitter.

“As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I know that our committee receives sensitive information, including assessments and projections, before others in Congress and the general public (if ever),” Castro wrote. “Sen. Burr should suspend his chairmanship pending investigation.”

Fox News Host Tucker Carlson made fiery remarks about Burr during his show on Thursday night. 

“He dumped his shares in hotel stocks so he wouldn’t lose money, and then he stayed silent,” Carlson said. “Maybe there is an honest explanation for what he did. If there is, he should share it with us immediately. Otherwise, he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading.”

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also called for Burr’s resignation.

“Burr knew how bad it would be. He told the truth to his wealthy donors, while assuring the public that we were fine,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “THEN he sold off $1.6 million in stock before the fall. He needs to resign.”

Several hours later, AOC reiterated a similar message about Sen. Loeffler, calling for her resignation as well. 

“It is stomach-churning that the first thoughts these Senators had to a dire & classified #COVID briefing was how to profit off this crisis,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.

Burr’s Call For Investigation

On Friday, in the midst of all the backlash, Burr said that he made a request to the Senate Ethics Committee to review his recent transactions.

“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision on the sale of stocks February 13,” Burr said in a statement Friday morning. “Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time.” 

“Understanding the assumption many could make in hindsight however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with full transparency,” Burr added. 

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NBC) (Los Angeles Times)

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Biden Policy Pushes for Electric Cars To Make Up Half of U.S. Auto Sales by 2030

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While the country’s largest automakers have signed onto the plan, experts say the goal will be difficult to achieve.


Biden’s Car Emissions Plan

President Joe Biden unveiled a new multi-pronged policy Thursday aimed at reducing vehicle emissions that has been described as one of his administration’s most significant efforts to combat climate change so far.

The first part of the plan directs relevant agencies to restore and strengthen mileage standards that were implemented by former President Barack Obama but rolled back under former President Donald Trump. 

The Trump administration estimated that its own standard would lead cars produced during the term of the rule to emit nearly a billion more tons of carbon dioxide and consume around 80 billion more gallons of gas over their lifetime. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the U.S., composing around 29% of the country’s total emissions.

As a result, the second part of Biden’s new plan aims to address a more long-term goal through an executive order that sets a new target to make electric cars half of all new vehicles sold by 2030.

A White House factsheet published Thursday morning outlined a series of proposals for the president to achieve his goal, which included:

  • Installing a national network of electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Implementing consumer incentives to encourage manufacturing and union jobs.
  • Funding changes and expansions to domestic manufacturing supply chains.
  • Developing new clean technologies.

Potential Difficulties 

The 2030 target is voluntary, but America’s “Big Three” automakers — Ford, GM, and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) — issued a joint statement announcing “their shared aspiration to achieve sales of 40-50% of annual U.S. volumes of electric vehicles by 2030.” 

The United Auto Workers union has also backed the plan, though it said it was more focused on ensuring its members maintained jobs than it was on setting specific goals and deadlines.

While the plan has the backing of major auto industry players, there are still many hurdles. Experts say it is impossible for electric vehicles to become half of all cars without making electric charging stations as common as gas stations.

But the bipartisan infrastructure plan that Congress and Biden have painstakingly negotiated for months only includes $7.5 billion for vehicle chargers — just half the price tag the president initially called for to build 500,000 recharging spots.

Given the stalemate in Congress, as well as the significant lobbying power of Big Oil, it is unclear how much can be achieved legislatively.

Even key members of Biden’s own party have expressed hesitancy.

For example, a budget plan recently proposed by Democrats includes provisions that would provide new tax breaks and subsidies for buying electric vehicles. Democratic leaders have said they want to pass the budget through reconciliation, meaning they only need a simple majority and thus will not require any Republican votes.

However, in order to do so, the party needs all 50 senators to agree to the package. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who recently said he has “grave concerns” about Biden’s desired speed to adopt electric vehicles, has already signaled that he will not support increased subsidies for the cars. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium

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The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.


Eviction Freeze Set To Expire

President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.

The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.

While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.

In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress. 

“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said. 

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”

Delays in Relief Distribution 

The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.

Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.

A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires. 

The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape. 

Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.

According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 —  including New York — had not spent any funds at all.

Slim Chances in Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.

However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.

While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.

Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.

“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”

With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)

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Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade

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The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.


Mississippi’s Abortion Case

Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.

After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.

Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.

When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.

As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.

When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”

But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

New Filing Takes Aim at Roe

With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.

“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.

“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers. 

“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.

“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”

The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.

An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.

See what others are saying:  (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)

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