Calls for U.S. Sen. Richard Burr to resign following two COVID-19-related developments are supported by half of North Carolinians, according to a Public Policy Polling poll released Tuesday.
Burr, a Republican from Winston-Salem, is facing pressure following disclosures Thursday that he gave a stark warning about COVID-19 at a Feb. 27 private event that he has not repeated publicly.
Burr’s comments carry significant weight in part because he is author of the federal Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006.
Separately, U.S. Senate financial-disclosure documents showed Burr and his wife, Brooke, sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his stock holdings in 33 separate transactions on Feb. 13, a week before the stock market began its sharp decline. The publication Roll Call listed his net worth at $1.7 million as of 2018.
National polling firm PPP interviewed 896 N.C. voters Saturday and Sunday on behalf of two left-leaning advocacy groups: Piedmont Rising, which is focused on state health-care issues; and Progress NC Action. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3%.
Half of those surveyed said Burr should resign, compared with 24% who said he should remain in office.
Among Democrats, 63% think Burr should resign compared with 15% who said he should stay, while 53% of independents think he should resign and 18% said stay.
“What might be most surprising is that even Republicans (38% stay, 31% resign) only narrowly say Burr doesn’t need to resign,” according to the pollsters.
Other results found just 22% approve of the job Burr is doing, compared with 54% who disapprove.
When the firm conducted a poll on Burr in June, he had a 36% disapproval and 32% approval rating.
When voters are informed later in the poll inquiry about his up to $1.7 million in stock sales, 69% said that news gives them “very serious” concerns about him.
Support for his resignation at that point increased to 60%, with 22% saying he should stay.
The poll was one of three recent developments involving Burr.
A Wyndham Hotels and Resorts shareholder has sued Burr in federal court, accusing him of committing securities fraud.
Alan Jacobson’s lawsuit was filed Monday in the District of Columbia. He is requesting compensatory damages “for all damages sustained as a result of defendant’s wrongdoing.”
On Feb. 13, Burr sold stock in Wyndham in separate transactions valued at between $15,001 and $50,000, and between $50,001 and $100,000. The Feb. 13 share price was $60.23, and it was at $60.20 when the market began to decline Feb. 20.
The share price hit $14.50 on March 18. Wyndham benefited from Tuesday’s rally to climb to $28.83.
The lawsuit claims Burr “exploited material information unavailable to the public ... for his personal gain.”
“In doing so, he injured shareholders who purchased and/or continued to hold securities in those same companies.”
The lawsuit cited as evidence of that level of damage that “Wyndham’s stock dropped precipitously as the market was belatedly informed of the severity of COVID-19, as well as its potential expected impact on the economy.”
“In particular, Wyndham, as a hotel chain, obviously stood to lose substantial business as a result of quarantine measures, border closures and substantial reductions in tourism.”
“This suit targets Senator Burr’s self-enrichment at the expense of members of the public. ... this is a case of elementary securities fraud.”
Burr’s U.S. Senate office could not be reached for comment about the lawsuit.
Burr took to social media Thursday night for an eight-part Twitter response to denounce as “a tabloid-style hit piece” National Public Radio’s Thursday report.
On Friday, Burr spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll sent a statement from Burr on the stock selling.
“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on Feb. 13,” Burr wrote. “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.”
Among the most vocal voices calling for Burr to step down is outspoken U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of President Trump’s fiercest defenders.
Gaetz tweeted Friday: “Crazy thought: instead of watching CNBC & then deciding to ‘get yours’ and sell off hotel stock, why not ‘go on’ TV and share your insights with all Americans?”
He also said Burr is getting favorable treatment by being allowed to stay as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, compared with former Fla. Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned over having an inappropriate affair with a staffer.
“@SenatorBurr stays as Intelligence Chairman after screwing all Americans by falsely reassuring us w(ith) op-eds on #COVID while he dumped his stock portfolio early.”
Gaetz tweeted in response to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., saying Burr owes North Carolinians an explanation that it was “such a low-energy establishment Senate response. “Self-referral” to “Senate Ethics” is the safe space where Senators can judge their own w/o real culpability.
“You, Senator Tillis, referring Burr to the DOJ (U.S. Justice Department) for prosecution would evidence a sincere concern for North Carolinians.”
Gaetz’ comments are being viewed with suspicion by some Democrats and never-Trump supporters.
Gaetz also tweeted “Worth noting that Chairman Burr was swampily complicit in dragging an innocent @DonaldJTrumpJr before Senate Intel time & time again.”
Those groups believe Gaetz is trying to force Burr’s removal as committee chairman as payback for Burr’s role in allowing the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
A Twitter comment comes from SomethingStinkshere: “(Burr) voted to subpoena Don Jr. Everyone cheering Tucker and Gaetz don’t realize they have been after Burr for a while for not being sufficiently loyal to the president.”