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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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Senate Democrats and Republicans Reach Agreement With White House on $2 Trillion Stimulus Package

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  • After a long day of talks, Senate Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement with the White House on a stimulus package that would now cost the government $2 trillion.
  • On Monday, Democrats shot down a stimulus package designed by Republicans and the White House.
  • The revised package would include an increase in unemployment pay as well as an extension to unemployment insurance.
  • It would also provide $500 billion to companies but would bar President Donald Trump, White House officials, and Congress from taking out loans for their businesses.

Senate Leaders and the White House Reach a Deal

After long talks and worries that lawmakers would go home empty-handed Tuesday, Senate Democrats finally reached a historic $2 trillion stimulus package with Senate Republicans and the Trump Administration around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The agreement, which comes after Senate Democrats blocked a different version of the bill on Monday, includes several noticeable differences.

While Republicans had sought to extend unemployment insurance for up to three months, Democrats convinced them to extend that program for up to four months. Additionally, the bill would reportedly expand eligibility to cover more people, including gig economy workers. 

People eligible for benefits will also see an additional $600 each week from the federal government, on top of their state benefits. On average, people receive $385 in state benefits each week while on unemployment.

The bill also includes $150 billion to hospitals and other health-care providers for equipment and supplies. According to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the bill will also increase Medicare payments to all hospitals and providers.

As for direct checks, that breakdown remains unchanged. Adults making under $75,000 would receive two $1,200 checks and two $500 checks for each child. The first of those payments would go out on April 6.

People making above $75,000 would see a dip in that assistance, with payments phasing out altogether for people making more than $99,000 a year. 

Trump and Congress Can’t Benefit From Business Loans

The bill also provides loan options for both small and large businesses. 

Small businesses would receive more than $350 in aid. Notably, those loans would be federally guaranteed as long as a small business pledges not to lay off workers. If an employer continues to pay workers for the duration of the crisis, those loans would then be forgiven.

Big businesses would still receive about $500 billion to be used as back loans and assistance, a provision that originally led Democrats to vote down the previous version of the bill on Monday. 

However, this bill also contains a few key limitations.

The most buzzworthy is that Democrats won language barring any business owned by President Trump from applying for those loans. That includes both Trump hotels and Mar-a-lago. Democrats sought such a measure because of their concern that Trump might try to use this bill to help his businesses, especially since many of them are connected to the travel industry.

Because they barred Trump, the bill also went a step further by also barring White House officials as well as any member of Congress. 

Another limitation is that if a company does take out a loan, it will then be subject to a ban on stock buybacks through the term of the loan and for one year after. 

Republicans also agreed to allow for an oversight board and to create a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery. That is largely an attempt by the Democrats to ensure companies limit executive bonuses as well as take steps to protect workers.

Will the Bill Help the Economy and Will It Pass?

As far as if this bill actually will help the economy, that’s still unclear. With an economy that is slowing down every day and with stocks plunging over the last month, there is worry that it may not do enough; however, with more of the details of this package, stocks did see an uptick Tuesday morning. 

Still, Congress is trying to move this bill into law as soon as possible. Reportedly, they’re rushing it through without public hearings or a formal review of the full bill.

If it passes through the Senate as expected, then it moves to the House of Representatives. Here, things could get a little trickier.

“This bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday. “House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action.”

While Pelosi did say that the bill meets some of Democrats’ demands, she didn’t say how the House would vote. On Tuesday, as the agreement was being discussed among Senators and the White House, Pelosi said on CNBC that she hoped the House would pass it with unanimous consent.

While lawmakers are under extreme pressure to get a bill like this passed, unanimous consent may be a tall order for a $2 trillion bill that covers every aspect of the U.S. economy, especially because while the details of the bill have been released, the full document is still under wraps.

Because of that, it’s very possible that some lawmakers might hold off on passing the bill until a formal vote is held, and there have already been some concerns from both sides of the aisle.

If unanimous consent isn’t possible, some version—possibly a very similar version—of this bill will likely get passed; however, taking a formal vote could extend this process by several days. This is because representatives will likely be encouraged to wait an extended amount of time between their trips to the floor to vote.

From there, a couple things could happen. The House could pass a slightly different version. The House and the Senate would then need to hash out those details.

Or, the House could pass the legislation as is and go directly to Trump, who Mnuchin said would “absolutely, absolutely, absolutely” sign the bill.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Los Angeles Times) (CNN)

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Trump Wants to Reopen the Economy by Easter, Experts Say It’s a Bad Idea

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  • President Trump indicated that he would like to reopen the economy by April 12, despite objections from public health experts who say doing so would make the coronavirus pandemic worse.
  • Speaking at a press conference, the president said that keeping the economy closed will create “far bigger problems,” and claimed that more people will die from job losses than the coronavirus.
  • Meanwhile, cases continue to grow at a rapid pace in the U.S., which reported more than 100 deaths in a single day for the first time Monday.

Trump’s Economic Priorities

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he wants to ease coronavirus restrictions and reopen the economy by April 12, despite objections from public health experts.

“I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter,” Trump said during an interview with Fox News.

The president had previously indicated that he wanted to pull Americans out of recommended isolation and put them back to work sooner rather than later during a press conference the day before.

“America will again, and soon, be open for business — very soon — a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting,” he said.

“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem,” Trump continued. “We have to open our country, because that causes problems that, in my opinion, could be far bigger problems.” 

Trump said that he would wait until the 15-day period of recommended closures and self-isolation expires on March 30, and then reassess whether or not restrictions should be lifted and people should be sent back to work. 

But when asked if any of the doctors on his team told him reopening the economy is the right move at this juncture, the president seemed to indicate that the medical experts should be taken with a grain of salt.

“Don’t forget, the doctors — if it were up to the doctors, they may say, ‘Let’s keep it shut down. Let’s shut down the entire world,’” he said.

When pushed on the question, Trump reiterated that keeping things shut down could create worse problems for the U.S. because of the size of the country’s economy and workforce.

“You have 160 — almost 160 million jobs in this country now — the most ever, by far,” he said. “So we can’t turn that off and think it’s going to be wonderful. There’ll be tremendous repercussions. There will be a tremendous death from that. Death. You know, you’re talking about death. Probably more death from that than anything that we’re talking about with respect to the virus.” 

Cases in America Grow

While the president may believe that job losses will cause more deaths than the coronavirus pandemic, health experts say otherwise.

The vast majority of doctors and other medical experts say sending people back to work is the opposite of what the U.S. should be doing. 

Despite what Trump may be telling the public, there is broad consensus that if the economy is reopened and people are forced to stop practicing social distancing, the coronavirus will continue to spread and there will be more deaths.

Trump’s remarks are especially concerning right now, as cases in the U.S. continue to grow rapidly. On Tuesday morning, the U.S. reported a total of 46,548 confirmed cases and 592 deaths— a significant jump in the death toll from just 24 hours prior. 

In fact, on Monday, the U.S. reported more than 100 deaths in one day, marking the highest number of deaths reported in a single day in the country since the coronavirus pandemic started.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said that the U.S. has the potential to become the next epicenter of the disease due to the “very large acceleration” in cases in the states.

Experts Object

But most health officials knew that the situation would get worse before it got better, including those on Trump’s team and in his administration. A majority of experts believe that the U.S. has not hit its peak yet.

The countries that are scaling back their restrictions are doing so because they have reported consistent decreases in numbers— but the U.S. is reporting consistent increases. As a result, the U.S. needs to be ramping up restrictions, not scaling them back.

And when it comes to the economy, many economists believe that pushing to reopen at the risk of spreading the virus more will actually be worse. The move, they argue, could overwhelm the already overburdened health care system, create uncertainty for customers, and do more long-term damage.

“If you don’t flatten the curve and minimize those who are getting infected, the amount of sickness will cripple business,” said John Auerbach, the president of the nonpartisan group the Trust for America’s Health.

Even some of Trump’s biggest allies like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) agree.

“Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all,” Graham tweeted Monday. “There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Axios) (The Washington Post)

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Defense Production Act Will Be Used For First Time in Coronavirus Pandemic to Secure Thousands of Test Kits

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  • FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said Tuesday that the Defense Production Act will be used today to secure 60,000 coronavirus testing kits.
  • This comes after days of backlash against President Trump who has been hesitant to use the act, which would compel private companies to manufacture highly-needed medical equipment.  
  • Still, cases of the virus are rapidly increasing, especially in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the lack of ventilators and other supplies will soon lead to deaths that could have otherwise been prevented.

The DPA and Trump’s Hesitation to Use It 

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor said Tuesday that the Trump administration will formally implement the Defense Production Act today to secure thousands of desperately needed coronavirus testing kids. 

Last week, President Donald Trump invoked the DPA, a Korean-War era provision that requires and provides incentives for private companies to prioritize federal government orders for products tied to national defense. So essentially, under this act, the government could order private manufactures to fulfill federal orders for critical medical equipment including ventilators, masks, and other supplies. 

But since signing the DPA, Trump has resisted actually using it, despite calls from politicians and medical associations for him to do so. The president has said he will only use the act in a “worst case scenario” and said that he’s concerned about nationalizing American businesses.

“We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business,” President Trump said at a press briefing on Sunday. “The concept of nationalizing our businesses is not a good concept.” 

He has also repeatedly said that invoking the act wasn’t needed because so many private companies have already been volunteering to manufacture supplies, though he did say Sunday that “we may have to use it someplace along the chain.”

On top of that, the president has insisted that state leaders should bear more responsibility for obtaining the live-saving equipment themselves. 

Calls For and Against DPA Use 

Cases of COVID-19 have continued to rise, leaving hospitals across the nation in distress. 

While several companies have actually been voluntarily redirecting their focus towards manufacturing or donating supplies, some have expressed concerns about doing so without clear guidance from the federal government that outlines what equipment is needed and where. 

Even with some companies like Tesla, Facebook, and Apple, stepping in to provide supplies, the need is still incredibly high and local officials have been pleading with the public for any and all help. 

In some cases, they’ve even had to pay hiked-up prices for personal protection equipment or had to compete against other states for supplies. 

But some of Trump’s advisors and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have raised concerns about using the act. They argue that mandating production could hurt some companies, complicate supply chains of key products, and further hurt the economy. 

Others warned that the law isn’t a quick fix because it could take weeks or even months before facilities could reconfigure themselves to make these highly-needed goods. 

FEMA Admin Says DPA Will Be Used 

Still, Gaynor told CNN Monday, “We’re actually going to use the DPA for the first time today. There are some test kits we need to get our hands on.”

More specifically, he said triggering the act would help secure about 60,000 test kits. For reference, 1 kit alone serves roughly 300-400 patients. If what Gaynor told CNN is true, this would mark the first time the act has been used during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The FEMA Administrator also said the administration would insert “DPA language” into the mass contracts for the federal government’s order of 500 million personal protective masks.

“So we’re going to use it. We’re going to use it when we need it. And we’re going to use it today,” Gaynor reiterated. “We want to be thoughtful and meaningful on how we do it again for the best result,” he added.

However, Gaynor later went on Fox & Friends to say that the law would be used narrowly as “leverage,” and still asked for local officials to bear the brunt of the burden.  

“We ask every governor — if you can find it, buy it. We are ready to use the Defense Production Act,” he said. “If we need as it leverage, we have it as leverage now.”

NY Needs Help Now 

But securing more tests still doesn’t address those who are in desperate need of other life-saving equipment. New York, for instance, has been very public about their shortages. 

Cases around the state are already well over 25,000 and the spread doesn’t appear to be slowing. In fact, Governor Andrew Cuomo said during a Tuesday news conference that the rate of infections in the state is doubling about every three days.

He stressed that he believed New York is just 14-21 days away from its apex and will need 140,000 hospital beds on top of the 30,000 ventilators it already needs.

He said the state has “exhausted every option” to combat the spread of the virus and criticized FEMA, questioning why the DPA isn’t being used to produce ventilators. 

“FEMA says, ‘we’re sending 400 ventilators.’ Really? What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?” Cuomo said. “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”

Shortly afterward, Vice President Mike Pence admitted during a Fox News town hall that New York is “truly the epicenter of the coronavirus now in our country.”

He added, “We’re in the process of literally sending the entire national stockpile out.”

“Earlier today, FEMA from the national stockpile shipped 2,000 ventilators to the state of New York, and tomorrow there will be another 2,000 ventilators shipped from the national stockpile. We have a ways to go yet.”

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The WallStreet Journal) (CNBC) 

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