- 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)
Highlights and Key Takeaways from the State of the Union
The president’s scaled-down agenda and heckling from Republicans throughout the night underscored the high level of polarization in the newly divided Congress.
A Big Night for Biden
President Joe Biden gave the annual State of the Union Tuesday, delivering the high-stakes address before a House now controlled by Republicans.
There was a lot riding on Biden’s shoulders: the speech has largely been seen as a soft launch for his 2024 presidential campaign at a time when his approval rating has remained quite low, hanging around just 42%.
That is a bump from the mid-30s he was hovering at last summer, but it still places him among some of the lowest average second-year approval ratings of any president in modern history.
To that point, this year’s State of the Union also put a lot of pressure on Biden to really perform at the top of his game and show the American people he still has what it takes to lead them — even as polls show that a majority of Democrats want a president from a new generation.
Biden is already the oldest president ever at 80, and a re-election bid means he’s asking voters to trust him with the country until he is 86. Republicans have repeatedly seized on his past stumbles to argue he is unfit for office. But, for the most part, Biden has been applauded for delivering exactly the address he needed to.
Championing Enacted Policies
The president’s address was fairly run-of-the-mill for a second-year president.
Touting his administration’s biggest accomplishments over the last few years, Biden put particular focus on the modest but steady economic gains and recoveries in key sectors. He emphasized economic initiatives like the Inflation Reduction Act and the historic infrastructure bill, taking a jab at Republicans who did not back the bipartisan bill to rebuild roads and bridges.
“I want to thank my Republican friends who voted for the law. And my Republican friends who voted against it as well,” he said. “But I’m still — I still get asked to fund the projects in those districts as well, but don’t worry. I promised I’d be a president for all Americans. We’ll fund these projects. And I’ll see you at the groundbreaking.”
Biden also took credit for a range of social policies, like lowering prescription drug prices, lowering costs for childcare and housing, and investing in climate programs. However, he also made it clear that there is still a long way to go, calling on Republicans and their new House Majority to work with him to “finish the job” — a phrase that he reportedly said 12 different times during the speech.
Push for Bipartisanship
In that vein, Biden presented an agenda that was very toned down from the ambitious, progressive plans he had outlined before a Democratic-controlled Congress.
He did not push for many new policies, and when he did, they were very middle of the road — like ending “junk fees” in travel, entertainment, and credit cards. The president also reiterated calls for a number of initiatives that have been non-starters for Republicans, like codifying abortion rights, renewing the assault weapons ban, and imposing new taxes on billionaires.
For the most part, Biden largely focused on a push for bipartisanship.
“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together and find consensus on important things in this Congress as well,” he said.
Biden went on to outline a unity agenda of issues he believes he can get GOP backing on, like support for veterans, fighting the opioid epidemic, and increasing access to mental health benefits.
Republicans Heckle Biden
Achieving unity and bipartisanship is easier said than done — especially given the extreme levels of polarization and division in the federal government. That was very much on display Tuesday night.
In an unusual show of partisan tensions, Republicans — mainly on the far-right — repeatedly heckled the president in what The Hill described as “some of the rowdiest pushback from an opposing party in recent memory.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) had told reporters that Republicans would act in line with the congressional “code of ethics” and that they would not play “childish games.” It was also reported that the Speaker explicitly warned his party to behave because there would be hot mics and cameras everywhere.
But McCarthy’s members ignored him. One of the most notable moments came when Biden talked about Republicans’ refusal to raise the debt ceiling and accused them of holding the economy hostage until Democrats agreed to their demands.
“Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans, some Republicans, want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s the majority,” Biden said, to boos from the GOP. “Let me give you — anybody who doubts it, contact my office. I’ll give you a copy — I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.”
The remark was met with much uproar. One member shouted an expletive, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) yelled “Liar!” as Biden continued to speak.
“I’m glad to see — no, I tell you, I enjoy conversion,” Biden quipped in response. “Folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be — all right. We’ve got unanimity.”
The comments have widely been described as Biden baiting Republicans — who fell into his trap. While it is true that a couple of Republicans floated tying Social Security and Medicaid cuts to the debt ceiling negotiations, that has largely been rejected — including by McCarthy, who said it is off the table.
That, however, was not the only moment where Republicans acted out. When Biden was speaking about the opioid epidemic, he cited the fact that over 70,000 Americans are killed by fentanyl each year, prompting one Republican to yell: “It’s your fault!”
There was further jeering and mocking laughter at various points of the night. In fact, the event got so rowdy that McCarthy was seen shushing his members multiple times from his perch behind Biden.
Biden, for his part, did repeatedly jab at Republicans on a number of issues. He condemned them for not backing certain proposals, criticized GOP policies, and called out efforts to ban abortion and repeal the Inflation Reduction Act — saying firmly that he will veto those attempts.
Small Steps for Bipartisanship, Lack of Foreign Policy
Despite the heated reproaches, the State of the Union did yield some solid moments of unity.
For example, Biden garnered bipartisan applause at one point while speaking about the need for police reform. He also received standing applause from Republicans when he slammed Russia’s war with Ukraine, as well as when he talked about building more semiconductor production in America.
On the topic of foreign policy, many experts noted that Biden spent relatively little time talking about Russia and China, despite the fact that he devotes much of his work and time to dealing with foreign adversaries.
The president, however, allocated only a small amount of his speech to talking about the war with Russia as well as ongoing standoffs with China.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)
Republican Congressman Proposes Bill to Ban Anyone Under 16 From Social Media
The proposal comes amid a growing push for social media companies to be stringently regulated for child and adolescent use.
The Social Media Child Protection Act
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Ut.) introduced legislation Thursday that would ban all Americans under the age of 16 from accessing social media.
The proposal, dubbed the Social Media Child Protection Act, would require social media companies to verify users’ ages and give parents and states the ability to bring legal actions against those platforms if they fail, according to a press release.
The legislation would also mandate that social media platforms implement “reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from users and perspective users.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be given the authority to enforce these regulations and implement fines for violations.
Stewart has argued that the move is necessary to protect children from the negative mental health impacts of social media.
“There has never been a generation this depressed, anxious, and suicidal – it’s our responsibility to protect them from the root cause: social media,” he said in a statement announcing the bill.
“We have countless protections for our children in the physical world – we require car seats and seat belts; we have fences around pools; we have a minimum drinking age of 21; and we have a minimum driving age of 16,” the Congressman continued.
“The damage to Generation Z from social media is undeniable – so why are there no protections in the digital world?”
While Stewart’s arguments are nothing new in the ongoing battle around children and regulating social media, his legislation has been described as one of the most severe proposals on this front.
The plan would represent a huge shift in verification systems that critics have long said fall short. Many social media sites like TikTok and Twitter technically ban users under 13 from joining, but there is no formal verification process or mechanisms for enforcement. Companies often just ask users to provide their birthdays, so those under 13 could easily just lie.
Backlash and Support
Stewart — who spent the weeks before the rollout of his bill discussing the matter with the media — has already gotten pushback from many who say the idea is too extreme and a bad approach.
Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of the social media trade group NetChoice, told The Washington Post that such a decision should be left to parents.
“Rather than doomsaying or trying to get between parents and their families, the government should provide tools and education on how best to use this new technology, not demonize it,” he said.
Others have also argued that the move could cut off access to powerful and positive online resources for kids.
“For many kids, especially LGBTQ young people who may have unsupportive parents or live in a conservative area, the internet and social media are a lifeline,” Evan Greer, the director of the advocacy group Fight for the Future, told The Post. “We need better solutions than just cutting kids off from online community and educational resources.”
Lawmakers have also echoed that point, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Ca.), who represents Silicon Valley. However, there also seems to be support for this measure. At least one Democratic Congressmember has told reporters they are open to the idea, and Stewart says he thinks the proposal will have broad bipartisan backing.
“This is bipartisan… There’s Democratic leaders who are actually maneuvering to be the lead co-sponsor on this,” he told KSL News Radio, adding that President Joe Biden recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that referenced similar ideas.
A Growing Movement
Stewart is just one among the growing number of lawmakers and federal officials who have voiced support for keeping kids and younger teens off social media altogether.
In an interview with CNN Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy expressed concern regarding “the right age for a child to start using social media.”
“I worry that right now, if you look at the guidelines from the platforms, that age 13 is when kids are technically allowed to use social media,” he said. “But there are two concerns I have about that. One is: I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early.”
Murthy went on to say that adolescents at that age are developing their identity and sense of self, arguing that social media can be a “skewed and often distorted environment,” adding that he is also worried about the fact that the rules around age are “inconsistently implemented.”
His comments gained widespread backing. At least one Senator posted a tweet agreeing, and an FTC Commissioner also shared the remarks on the platform. Stewart, for his part, explicitly cited Murthy’s remarks in the press release announcing his bill.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (KSL News Radio) (CNN)
Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office
The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom
What Was in the Files?
President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.
The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.
The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.
Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.
On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.
They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.
What Happens Next?
Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.
Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.
Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.
If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.
The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.
On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.
Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.
The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.