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Burr uses farewell address to call for visionary leadership, less partisanship in Congress


U.S. Sen. Richard Burr delivered Tuesday his farewell address to Congress, speaking nearly a minute for each of his 28 years as a legislator — 10 years in the House and 18 in the Senate.

The Winston-Salem Republican used his speech to reminisce, cajole and caution, thank and make a plea for “more statesmen and fewer politicians.”

Burr shared stories of reaching across the aisle to attempt compromises on thorny legislative issues, gaining long-term friendships in the process.

He joked that “while I’m sure (his wife Brooke) is happy to see me retire from the Senate, she also reminded me that she doesn’t make lunch, so I’ll have to find another job when I leave here.”

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Burr said he believed he spent his time in Congress “making a difference for my state and our country” after deciding as a businessman in 1992 that “things in Washington, D.C., were not working as they should.”

After being defeated in his first run at the House, Burr rode the 1994 “Contract with America” Republican wave.

Burr cited he is one of only three House members of the class of 1994 still in Congress, counting U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Burr spent much of his time in Congress preferring a lower profile even as he took leadership roles in key Senate public health, finance and foreign intelligence committees.

He spoke of his work with the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act, “dragging the agency kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”

“Serving on the House and Senate Intelligence committees has made me more committed to remaining vigilant in the goal of protecting the lives of all Americans,” Burr said.

Upon being elected as U.S. senator, Burr said his three terms were dominated by five key national and global events: the financial crisis of 2008-09; the Ebola outbreak of 2014; the COVID-19 pandemic; the impeachment proceedings of President Donald Trump (whom he did not name in his speech) and the “illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine” by Russia.

“If I have any regrets about the operation of the Senate in recent years, it is how much our leaders have ignored or ruined the work of committees,” Burr said.

“The Senate needs more committee consideration of bills and serious issues, less consideration of decision-making in the hands of a few.”

Defining legacy?

Burr’s legacy in Congress is likely to be remembered for three high-profile developments over the past three years.

Burr was one of seven Republican senators who voted on Feb. 13, 2021, to convict Trump based on Trump’s actions and statements linked to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol by thousands of Trump supporters.

Burr touched on his three impeachment votes — counting the House impeachment of President Bill Clinton in December 1998 — at a time when far-right GOP members of the U.S. House have vowed to pursue impeachment proceedings against President Joe Biden in 2023.

“Nobody wins in impeachment,” Burr said. “I lived through three.

“Congress should resist the temptation to treat impeachment as the newest form of political opposition.”

COVID-19

Burr was subject to criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike following media reports on his actions after attending a joint Jan. 24, 2020, Senate Health and Foreign Relations committee briefing on COVID-19.

The briefing included the director of the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The bulk of Burr’s stock sales were made Feb. 13, 2020 — a week before the stock market began its sharp COVID-19-related decline.

The Feb. 13 stock sales by the Burrs occurred six days after Burr co-wrote an op-ed piece saying America had tools in place to combat COVID-19.

Burr also gave a stark warning about COVID-19 at a Feb. 27, 2020, private event that he had not repeated publicly at that time.

Burr told members of the well-connected the Tar Heel Circle, a nonpartisan group comprised of business leaders and entities, that the novel coronavirus would have dire effects on the U.S. economy and population, likening it to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that left millions dead, according to a secret recording obtained by NPR.

Burr told the audience that “there’s one thing I can tell you about this, it is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history.”

Burr’s comments carried significant weight in part because he is author of the federal Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006.

On Tuesday, Burr said that “I wish we had done more to keep schools open so that children wouldn’t have suffered so much.”

“But, I know that in the future, we will have learned from those mistakes.”

Stock trading

Burr has been the subject of multiple federal investigations into allegations of insider stock trading, of which the U.S. Justice Department ended in January 2021 by apparently declining to bring charges.

On March 20, 2020, Burr requested the U.S. Senate Ethics committee investigate the stock transactions.

Burr released a statement, saying, “I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on Feb. 13. Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time.”

In May 2020, Burr resigned as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a ripple effect from the controversy.

In September 2022, a less-redacted version of a federal court filing showed Burr and his wife avoided a loss of at least $87,000 “as a result of well-timed stock sales” in February 2020 and profited by at least $164,000.

The disclosures were listed in an FBI search warrant approved by Judge Beryl Howell on May 13, 2020, that requested allowing for seizing Burr’s cellphone.

Optimistic future

Burr said he leaves Congress “having never been more optimistic about our future.”

“I have often expressed my belief that America’s best days are still ahead, and lately I have been chided for still thinking that to be true.

“I refuse to believe that any challenge is too great to tackle when we come together.”

Burr said that “during the next two decades, we will see technology and innovation at a speed we never envisioned. Breakthroughs that will transform health care, agriculture and manufacturing.”

Yet, Burr cautioned that “it is time for Congress to be the visionary body our Founders envisioned.”

“Government should not be a roadblock to innovation and new ideas. Rather, it should encourage new ideas, new innovations and new possibilities to realize the untapped potential of our citizens.”

“We need to unleash Americans to solve today’s problems with the intellectual power of our great country. America is full of bright and intelligent men and women of all ages who are creative in finding solutions and forging new paths.

“We need these folks in the U.S. Senate, and I am glad that I have had a chance to serve with some who will now continue great efforts for years to come.”

Burr advised that members of Congress, both long in the tooth and newly elected, “to consistently remind yourself why you came to serve.”

“Only do things that have a meaningful purpose. My staff know me for my rule to introduce legislation. They are required to show me the human face behind the issue.”

“The American people expect us to get things done — like it or not.

“They may not send you home, but you will leave feeling like you played in the game, but have little to nothing to show for it.”



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