When Republican Senators learned of the dire threat posed by the Chinese coronavirus, they did nothing about our porous borders or our broken immigration system. They kept the information to themselves—and a few rushed to profit. Stock trades by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA)’s have outraged the public. Their behavior reflects GOP Establishment priorities: The desire to boost Big Business and ignore Middle America is taken to its logical extreme in personally profiting off a major crisis. Neither Burr nor Loeffler are remotely immigration patriots. This lack of concern for defending the American people may ultimately explain why they did not hesitate to exploit the virus outbreak for their own gain.
Burr sold off 33 stocks worth between $628,033 and $1.72 million in the weeks after a January 24 Senate briefing on the virus. Loeffler sold off stocks worth millions. Burr’s actions are considered more suspect because he admits he made these transactions personally. Loeffler blames her transactions on the independent third-party who runs her portfolio. [Coronavirus insider trading cases against Burr, Loeffler and others differ drastically, by Griffin Connolly, The Independent, April 13, 2020]
Other senators also stand accused of impropriety. Republican Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, Republican Georgia Sen. David Perdue, and Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein all made suspicious transactions in the same time frame. [Georgia senator bought stock in personal protective equipment maker amid coronavirus crisis, by Justine Coleman, The Hill, April 7, 2020]. However, none of these senators attended the January 24th briefing and their transactions are considered less dubious.
Burr actually said in a February 7 op-ed co-written with Sen. Lamar Alexander that
…the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump Administration.
Coronavirus prevention steps the U.S. government is taking to protect you, by Richard Burr and Lamar Alexander, Fox News, February 7, 2020]
That assertion now rings somewhat hollow. And Burr seemed to know it was a bogus claim with his stock transactions.
Neither Burr nor Loeffler is particularly good on immigration. Both have demanded importation of more foreign workers while over 20 million Americans are unemployed. In March, both signed a letter urging the Trump administration to loosen restrictions on H-2A visas so the agriculture industry can continue to rely on cheap foreign labor. “We believe suspending visa services that our farmers rely on will be detrimental to families across our nation trying to put food on the table,” the letter said.
Loeffler also signed a separate letter in April demanding the administration expedite EB-3 visas for foreign nurses. “Our nation’s hospitals will be overwhelmed if they are not able to hire more nursing staff. We urge you to help our hospitals address this crisis by expediting your processing of visas for immigrant nurses,” the letter stated.
Sen. Perdue also signed these letters, but he at least gets credit for sponsoring the immigration reducing-RAISE Act and supporting other patriotic immigration reforms.
Burr and Loeffler have no record of such support.
Burr did vote against Amnesty in 2006 and 2013 and boasts a B career rating from NumbersUSA. (His current term rating is a significantly lower D rating.) However, he has long been a supporter of increasing the number of guest worker visas.
In 2015, he signed one letter to the Obama administration requesting that wages for H-2B visa holders be kept down to make it profitable for the businesses that rely on them. He also signed a letter that year urging the administration to continue processing H-2B visa applications after a temporary delay.
Burr’s obsession with cheap foreign workers is all too present in our current crisis as well.
Sen. Loeffler was sworn in to her Senate seat only in January, so she doesn’t have a record comparable to Burr’s. However, her husband, New York Stock Exchange Chairman Jeffrey Sprecher, is very clear he wants more immigration.
“As a business operator, it’s important for me that we have a very, very good legal immigration system that allows this country to attract the best people,” Sprecher told WABE right after the 2016 election. “So while there’s a lot of focus on illegal immigration, I hope that the Trump administration will focus on legal immigration and pathways for this country to benefit from the hard work of others.” [Metro Atlanta Chamber: Opposing Religious Freedom Bills A Priority, by Tasnim Shamma, WABE, November 30, 2016]
Loeffler earned her appointment basically because of her own and her husband’s money. Both Sprecher and Loeffler have made sizable donations to the GOP and the Senator plans to use their massive wealth to win election in her Senate race this year [GOP Senate appointee Kelly Loeffler has extensive history of giving to Republicans — and a few Democrats, by Karl Evers-Hillstrom, Open Secrets, December 4, 2019]
Neither Burr nor Loeffler are showing much contrition in the wake of the scandal. Tucker Carlson has called on Burr to resign, but the North Carolina senator shows no sign of leaving office. [‘There is no greater moral crime’: Tucker Carlson calls for Sen. Richard Burr’s resignation over stock sell-off, by Katie Shepherd, The Washington Post, March 20, 2020]. He has agreed to comply with an ethics investigation. Loeffler has denied any wrongdoing but is selling off all of her individual stock positions. Still, she is not dropping out of her primary race against Rep. Doug Collins.
The GOP Establishment is sticking behind the two. This makes more sense in the case of Burr. If Burr resigned, North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper would appoint a Democrat to his seat. Burr’s term ends in 2022 and he says he won’t run for re-election. [Burr pledges to retire after one more Senate term, by Jordan Carney, The Hill, July 20, 2016] Burr’s actions are disgraceful and speak to the party’s craven priorities, but it makes more political sense to strip of his leadership roles and let him serve out his term. The GOP doesn’t have ideal options when dealing with Burr.
But that’s not the case with Loeffler. Collins, her primary opponent, is a far better option. Collins has an A NumbersUSA career rating and has bucked the Establishment consensus on immigration. President Trump wanted Collins to be appointed to that seat last year, but Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp chose Loeffler apparently to appeal to suburban women—and his donors. Kemp and other Establishment figures think Loeffler is more electable than the Trumpian Collins. The coronavirus trading should put that myth to bed. The latest poll shows Collins 23 points ahead of Loeffler--36 percent vs. 13 percent.
It’s revealing that the Establishment continues to back a wealthy donor with no populist appeal over someone who genuinely supports Trump’s agenda. In effect, it is telling voters that it prefers alleged insider traders over immigration patriots.
The GOP has long been smeared as the party that only serves the interests of billionaires. Trump’s 2016 victory overcame that and offered the possibility of the GOP turning into the party of the workingman. [Taking Trump seriously on making the GOP the ‘workers’ party’, by F.H. Buckley, New York Post, February 27, 2017] But party leaders standing resolutely behind Burr and Loeffler completely undercuts that hopeful message.
GOP leaders should strip Burr of his committee assignments and let him serve out his term quietly. The National Republican Senatorial Committee and other Establishment appendages should withdraw their support for Loeffler and back Collins instead. There is no reason to continue to support an out-of-touch corporate fat cat when a much better candidate is available—even if it means upsetting donors and picking an immigration patriot.
The GOP needs to signal that it’s America First. Doing nothing about the tawdry financial transactions of establishment senators and ignoring immigration signal the opposite. It’s time for the Establishment to do the right thing.
Washington Watcher II [Email him] is an anonymous DC insider.