As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend the U.S. and the entire world, there are plenty of things to be anxious and angry about when it comes to the federal response.
In particular, there is real, justifiable anger at an administration that, despite being woefully unprepared for what they knew was coming, continuously sought to downplay the severity of the virus. It is a daily-changing situation that keeps getting worse with almost every passing hour, and history will ultimately judge many of our leaders and their actions in a harsh light.
But in a time of great turmoil and uncertainty — when several hundred thousand Americans may die if we can’t get the situation under control and when millions more are staring down the barrel of unemployment — here's what's even more enraging: politicians who look out for themselves at the expense of their constituents’ well-being and then offer excuses, thickly-coated in B.S., for their behavior.
Enter U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who is one of a handful of senators whose financial transactions following a private Senate briefing in January about the virus, less than a month into her tenure, have come under intense scrutiny.
Last week, The Daily Beast and other outlets reported that financial disclosures show Loeffler sold up to $3.1 million in stocks shortly after the Jan. 24 briefing — all while she simultaneously took to the cameras to tell Americans the economy was strong and there was little to worry about. According to reporting in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Loeffler and her husband, New York Stock Exchange chairman Jeffrey Sprecher, made just two purchases during the weeks following the briefing — both in companies with software technology now in high demand as many more Americans have been forced or are choosing to work from home amid efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
This is something so gobsmackingly corrupt that used to mean the end of a political career. But in an era when self-dealing and profiteering is the name of the game in Washington (even more so in the last three years), Loeffler has proven she fits right in. In the typical mold of a politician who has been caught, she called the media reports “a ridiculous and baseless attack.” But her conduct here could hardly be more outright unethical, and the intent behind her actions, given the paper trail, could hardly be clearer.
Loeffler has deservedly drawn fierce criticism from both sides of the political aisle, including several people running in the “jungle primary” for her seat.
Mark Gonsalves, a Republican candidate for Georgia’s Seventh Congressional District, was quoted in the AJC as saying, “Taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic for personal financial gain is an alarming lack of judgement that renders (Loeffler) unfit to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate.”
Perhaps the harshest comment came from Loeffler’s main GOP rival in the race, Congressman Doug Collins.
“People are losing their jobs, their businesses, their retirements, and even their lives and Kelly Loeffler is profiting off their pain?” Collins said. “I'm sickened just thinking about it.”
I’ve had plenty of critical things to say about the congressman in previous columns, but he nailed it there unlike anyone else. The actions of Loeffler and others are the personification of modern-day American greed and corruption and are a perfect example of why millions of Americans, who have no tolerance for this kind of crap, stand ready to blow the whole system up with someone in the mold of Bernie Sanders and start over.
Responding to subsequent reporting by CBS News that Sprecher had sold $3.5 million in shares in the Intercontinental Exchange before the markets went way south, conservative professor and author Tom Nichols wrote, “This is the kind of thing that makes Bolshevism seem like a reasonable alternative.”
Loeffler was the second senator to come under fire last week for financial dealings prior to the pandemic really taking hold in America. Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina reportedly dumped $1.7 million in stocks after the briefing and was revealed in an audio recording telling a private group this would be akin to the 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic, all while telling the public, in effect, “All is well.”
Other senators who have faced scrutiny as of this writing include Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Georgia’s other senator, David Perdue.
While their explanations have varied, Loeffler’s repeated professed ignorance to the financial activity would be laughable if the implications of this pandemic weren’t so dire.
“Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement,” she said in a statement.
Wow. If you have ever wondered whether some people have too much damn money, you now have your answer.
Nevertheless, the wife of the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange doubled down on her “I don’t keep up with how our money is managed” defense in a Friday night interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. And over the weekend, she tweeted an unconvincing photo of her at her work desk with the message, “Working to get the American people the relief they need. I’m advocating strongly to include aid to our families & small businesses, as well as medical professionals, hospitals, clinics & nursing homes that are on the front lines, the true heroes of these uncertain times.”
We already know what the senator did. She and her staff and surrogates should stop insulting our intelligence. If she wants to salvage her reputation, she’ll pump the money she saved and more of her large fortune into helping with the massive recovery effort that will be required to pull our country through this.
But she can no longer be counted on to do the people’s work in the Senate with integrity. The senator, and any others who were engaging in similar activity, should resign and go find something better to do.