“Maybe the bottom line is, if you’re going to be in the Senate you can’t own any stock. Or at least own mutual funds. Who knows, people could say you’re gaming an index fund,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “Part of the joy of serving in public office.”
Burr sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in stocks earlier this year around the time he was receiving closed-door briefings on the coronavirus pandemic, which eventually sent the stock market into a tailspin. His brother-in-law reportedly sold thousands in stocks at the same time, ProPublica reported. Feinstein, meanwhile, voluntarily recently turned over documents to the FBI relating to her husband’s stock trades. And Loeffler similarly sold off large sums around the time she received briefings on the virus. All three senators have denied any wrongdoing.
Several senators have made anti-corruption a hallmark of their campaigns. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for example, has proposed legislation banning members of Congress from owning or trading individual stocks. And she said her time on the presidential campaign trail reinforced that voters are incensed by even the perception of corruption among their elected representatives.
“The American people should never wonder whether or not the top officials in this government are working for them or are working for their own personal financial gain,” Warren said in a brief interview. “I think we ought to change the law. And I’m going to keep pushing.”
Still, Warren declined to criticize Burr specifically. And the chummy Senate is an awkward place for scandal. The body of 100 is a back-slapping old-school institution where it’s rare for senators, even of opposing parties, to publicly pressure one another to step down from prominent positions or resign from office. No sitting senator has called on Burr to resign.
The laid-back Burr, a quirky North Carolinian who often doesn’t wear socks and brings his own lunches to GOP party meetings to save a few bucks, is generally well-liked by Democrats and Republicans. During the 2008 financial crisis, he told his wife to withdraw as much money as possible from an ATM.
So in the 90 minutes before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that Burr would step aside from chairing the panel, Republicans defended the North Carolina Republican and Democrats declined to lean on him to step down. When McConnell put out his statement around noon on Thursday, several senators were informed of the news by reporters asking for their reaction.
“I didn’t see this coming,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of the quick turn of events.
Every few years, at least one of the chamber’s members stumbles publicly. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) was indicted in 2015, and eventually acquitted, on corruption charges. Before that, in 2011, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) resigned amid an ethics investigation of his attempts to hide an affair.