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U.S. Senators Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler under fire for selling stock before coronavirus slide

Burr and Loeffler insist they did nothing wrong in unloading stocks before markets tanked

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senators Richard Burr of North Carolina and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia are facing a torrent of criticism after revelations that they and family members unloaded millions of dollars worth of stock before U.S. markets tanked over concerns about the coronavirus — and while both senators were still making upbeat assessments about its threat.

Prior to his stock sales, Burr, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was receiving daily briefings from Trump administration officials about coronavirus; Loeffler and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, whose company owns the New York Stock Exchange, sold stock after she attended a private briefing for senators on the topic in late January.

Another Southern senator, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, also sold stock after that briefing but says he did not attend.

U.S. Senators Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) and Richard Burr (R-North Carolina)

All three senators insist they did nothing wrong, although Burr has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review his sales.

“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks,” Burr said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out it its Asia bureaus.”

Loeffler — a multimillionaire business executive appointed to the Senate in January by Governor Brian Kemp — called the reports about the stock trades “completely false,” saying they were made by her financial advisers.

“I’m not involved in the decision-making of these trades, nor have I been in communication with my third-party financial advisors about them,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter. “I have no knowledge of these trades until well after they are made.”

However, Democrats and even some Republicans are calling for investigations into the trades — and even for the senators to resign.

Among those calling for Burr’s head is Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who told his viewers that “there is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis.”

While Burr is retiring in 2018, Loeffler is facing a tough special election battle for the remainder of her term in November, a race that includes an intra-party challenge from Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.

Collins — still in self-quarantine after being exposed to the virus — said he was “sickened” by Loeffler’s actions.

“People are losing their jobs, their businesses, their retirements, and even their lives and Kelly Loeffler is profiting off their pain?” he said in a tweet.

The leading Democrat in the race, Raphael Warnock, called Loeffler’s conduct “unconscionable.”

“As the coronavirus pandemic is busy taking lives and livelihoods, Kelly Loeffler has been busy looking out for herself,” Warnock said on Twitter.

An analysis of disclosure reports by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group, showed that on February 13, Burr sold 33 stocks worth between $628,000 and $1.7 million dollars, including stocks in hotel companies hard hit by the coronavirus. The stock market began to plunge about a week later.

Senators only have to report financial transactions within ranges on disclosure reports, so the exact amount of Burr’s stock sales is unknown.

Loeffler and Sprecher sold up between $1.3 million and $3.2 million worth of stock in the weeks after she attended a private January 24 briefing for senators in which administration officials discussed the spread of coronavirus, according to a financial disclosure report she posted on Twitter.

In that report, Koeffler said she wasn’t notified of those transactions until Feb. 16, which she said was “proof” that the stock sales weren’t improper.

At the time of the briefing, Loeffler had been in office just three weeks.

Two other senators — Inhofe and Dianne Feinstein of California — also sold stock after the January 24 briefing.

In a statement, Inhofe, who is seeking re-election in November, said he did not attend the briefing and that the sales were part of an ongoing effort to shift his stock portfolio into mutual funds after he became chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. His sales were on a smaller scale than those of Burr and Loeffler, between $180,000 and $400,000.

A Feinstein spokesman said her holdings were in a blind trust run by her husband and she was not involved in the sale.

Members of Congress are permitted to own and trade stocks. However, trades have to be disclosed, and it is illegal for them to buy and sell stock based on insider information that isn’t available to the general public.

In addition to the stock sales themselves, statements made by Burr and Loeffler about coronavirus as their stocks were being sold have also come under scrutiny, as have Burr’s remarks at a private gathering in late February where he likened the coronavirus to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions of people worldwide.

On February 28, Loeffler took to Twitter to allege that “Democrats have dangerously and intentionally misled the American people on #Coronavirus readiness. Here’s the truth: @realDonald Trump & his administration are doing a great job working to keep Americans healthy & safe.”

On March 10, following a meeting with the president, she said on Twitter: “Concerned about #coronavirus? Remember this: The consumer is strong, the economy is strong, & jobs are growing, which puts us in the best economic position to tackle #COVID19 & keep Americans safe.”

By the time of those tweets, at least $355,000 worth of her stock had been sold and possibly as much as $950,000; her husband’s total was between $926,000 and $2.2 million, according to her disclosure report.

On February 7, Burr co-wrote an opinion article for Fox News in which he said that the United States “is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus” and said public health officials were moving “swiftly and decisively” to deal with the threat.

A week later, he began selling stock, and on February 27, he told a private meeting of North Carolina business leaders that coronavirus “is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” according to audio of the speech obtained by National Public Radio.

Burr also likened coronavirus to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that is believed to have killed at least 17 million people worldwide, NPR reported.

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Ebenezer Baptist pastor Raphael Warnock enters Georgia U.S. Senate special election

Warnock gets an early boost from Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost a governor’s race in 2018

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA — Atlanta pastor Ralphael Warnock, who holds the historic pulpit where both Martin Luther King Jr. and his father preached, has entered the special election race for a U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Kelly Loeffler, giving Democrats a high-profile candidate for a seat they have high hopes of flipping.

“I’ve committed my whole life to service and helping people realize their highest potential,” he said in a video announcing his campaign. “I’ve always thought that my impact doesn’t stop at the church door — that’s actually where it starts.”

U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia

Warnock’s campaign launch came with a full-throated endorsement from Stacey Abrams, who energized Democrats nationally in a unsuccessful race for governor in 2018.

“Wherever there is need, Reverend Warnock can be found on the front lines,” Abrams said in a letter sent to her supporters. “And that’s where we need him at this moment. On the front lines of the battle for the soul of America.”

Since 2005, Warnock has been senior pastor at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, from which King helped lead the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The Senate race is his first run for political office.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate seat in December by Governor Brian Kemp to replace Republican Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. Georgia voters will decide in November who fills the remaining two years of Isakson’s term; candidates from all parties will run in a special election, with the top two voter-getters facing each other in a runoff if no one gets a majority.

Warnock’s entry into the race further complicates Loeffler’s effort to hold the seat. She is already facing an intra-party challenge from U.S. Rep. Doug Colllins, who was passed over by Kemp when he filled the Senate vacancy.

Four other candidates will be competing with Warnock for Democratic votes: Matt Lieberman, a businessman from Cobb County and son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman; Ed Tarver, a former state senator and federal prosecutor from Augusta; Richard Winfield, a philosophy professor at the University of Georgia; and Tamara Johnson-Shealey, a nail salon owner and law student from DeKalb County.

The next wrinkle in the Senate race may take place in the Georgia legislature, where Collins supporters — with the backing of Democrats — are trying to push through a change in state law to hold party primaries instead of an all-parties special election, setting up a one-on-one match-up between Collins and Loeffler in a Republican-only electorate.

The change would also ensure that a Democrat would get a clean shot at either Loeffler or Collins, rather than battling them both.

Kemp has threatened to veto the bill. However, House Democrats have indicated they may support the change, which could create a veto-proof majority with just 45 out of the 104 Republicans in the House.

Georgia’s other Senate seat, held by Republican David Perdue, is also up in 2020. And while Georgians haven’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 2000, the two Georgia seats could be key to Democrat’s hopes of overturning the GOP’s three-seat majority.

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Georgia U.S. Rep. Doug Collins gets into U.S. Senate race, igniting GOP squabble

Trump champion will challenge Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat in December

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Colllins, one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress, will run in a November special election against the state’s newly minted U.S. senator, Kelly Loeffler, defying the man who appointed her, Governor Brian Kemp, and triggering an intra-party squabble with potential implications for Senate control.

“We’re getting ready for a good time down here to keep defending this president, keep him working for the people of Georgia,” Collins said in a Wednesday morning appearance on “Fox & Friends” where he confirmed his candidacy. “We just need to have a process that let’s the people decide. Let them choose for themselves how they want to see this vision.”

In December, Kemp appointed Loeffler, a wealthy Atlanta business executive who had not previously held political office, to the seat vacated by veteran Republican Johnny Isakson, rebuffing furious lobbying by conservatives who preferred Collins, a Gainesville Republican serving his fourth term in the House who has led the charge against Trump’s impeachment as ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, announces Senate bid on “Fox & Friends” (From Fox News Channel)

The question that will now hang over the race is whether Trump will buck Kemp and the Senate Republican establishment and endorse Collins over Loeffler, the incumbent. The president was reportedly cool to Loeffler’s appointment before it was made, although he has since singled her out for praise.

Asked if he expected Trump’s support, Collins said, “I think that’s up the president.”

Even with Trump’s support, Collins will have to battle against what is likely to be Loeffler’s significant financial advantage. He starts the race with less than $1.4 million in his campaign account, while she is expected to tap $20 million from her own fortune for the campaign.

Collins decision to run against Loeffler immediate drew fire from the Senate Republicans’ campaign organization and a political action committee allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“The shortsightedness in this decision is stunning,” said Kevin McLaughlin, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement. “Doug Collins’ selfishness will hurt (Georgia U.S. Senator) David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and President Trump. Not to mention the people of Georgia who stand to bear the burden of it for years to come. All he has done is put two senate seats, multiple house seats, and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play.”

“It’s so selfish of Doug Collins to be promoting himself when President Trump needs a unified team and Senator Loeffler is such a warrior for the President,” said Steven Law, president of the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, in a statement. “As we’ve said before, Senator Loeffler is an outsider like Trump, not just another D.C. politician. We’ll have her back if she needs us.”

Collins fired right back on Twitter, employing one of Trump’s favorite phrases to deride McLaughlin’s comments: “This is FAKE NEWS coming from the head of a Washington-based group whose bylaws require him to support all incumbents, even unelected ones.”

In addition to Loeffler’s seat, Perdue is also up for election in 2020. The two Republican-held seats in Georgia will be key in Democratic efforts to overturn the GOP’s three-seat Senate majority.

The next act in the Collins-Loeffler race may take place in the Georgia legislature, where Collins supporters — with the backing of Democrats — may try to change the rules governing the November special election to his advantage.

As state law now stands, candidates from all parties will run in November, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a runoff if no one gets a majority. However, some Republicans in the House, with the support of Speaker David Ralston, are pushing to create regular party primaries for seat, which would set up a one-on-one match-up between Collins and Loeffler in a Republican-only electorate.

Kemp has threatened to veto the bill. However, House Democrats have indicated they may support the change, which could create a veto-proof majority with just 45 out of the 104 Republicans in the House.

In addition to possibly helping Collins, a party primary would ensure that a Democrat would get a clean shot at either Loeffler or Collins, rather than battling them both.

Democrats, not surprisingly, were gleeful about Collins’s decision to enter the race and upset Kemp’s best-laid plans.

“This expensive, protracted brawl — already playing out on the front page — will force unelected mega-donor Senator Loeffler and Trump ally Congressman Collins into a race to the right that reveals just how out-of-touch both are with Georgia voters,” said Helen Kalla, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in a statement.

Four Democrats have already gotten into the race against Loeffler, including Matt Lieberman, a businessman from Cobb County and son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman; Ed Tarver, a former state senator and federal prosecutor from Augusta; Richard Winfield, a philosophy professor at the University of Georgia; and Tamara Johnson-Shealey, a nail salon owner and law student from DeKalb County.

Raphael Warnock, the high-profile senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, is also expected to join the race.

Collins, 53, was a lawyer and Baptist pastor before being elected to Congress in 2012. He is also a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force reserves.

His 9th District, which covers the state’s northeastern corner, is heavily Republican and is likely to stay in GOP hands after his departure, though his pursuit of the Senate will likely trigger a competitive primary in the five weeks remaining before the filing deadline.

Before being appointed to the Senate, Loeffler, 49, worked as an executive at Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange; she is married to Jeffrey Sprecher, the company’s founder and CEO.

Loeffler is also co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, which she purchased with a partner in 2010.

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Georgia’s new Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler takes oath of office

Loeffler, appointed by Governor Brian Kemp, will have to defend her seat in November special election

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA (CFP) — Kelly Loeffler, a multi-millionaire Atlanta finance executive and Republican mega-donor who co-owns the city’s WNBA franchise, is now officially Georgia’s newest U.S. Senator.

Loeffler (pronouced LEFF-ler) took the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence on January 6 to replace Johnny Isakson, a veteran GOP lawmaker who resigned his seat due to declining health.

She will seek the remaining two years of Isakson’s term in a special election in November.

Loeffler is sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence (From C-SPAN)

Loeffler, who has no previous elected political experience, was picked for the Senate seat by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in December after a public, two-month search in which he accepted applications from more than 500 would-be senators.

She joins the Senate just in time to participate in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Loeffler’s appointment had initially received a lukewarm reception from the White House and vocal opposition from some of Trump’s most fervent partisans, although that opposition has dissipated over the past month as Loeffler held a series of private meetings with conservative activists around the state.

Loeffler, 50, will become just the second woman to represent the Peach State in the Senate; the first, Rebecca Felton, was appointed to serve a single day back in 1922.

In addition to bringing gender diversity and an outsider persona to the GOP ticket, Loeffler will also be able to tap her personal fortune for the special election, in which candidates from all parties run against each other, with a runoff between the top two vote-getters if no one wins a majority.

Among the applicants passed over by Kemp was U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the House who has said he may challenge Loeffler in the special election. A Collins run could pit the president against Kemp, who won the governorship in 2018 after Trump backed him in the GOP primary.

So far, only one Democrat has entered the special election race — Matt Lieberman, the son of former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat will also be on the ballot in 2020, with Republican incumbent David Perdue trying to fend off a field of Democratic challengers.

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Georgia U.S. Rep. John Lewis diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

Atlanta Democrat tells constituents, “I am going to fight it.”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the dean of Georgia’s congressional delegation and an icon of the civil rights movement, has been diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer, a disease which has a very low survival rate.

Lewis announced his cancer diagnosis in a news release from his office. He said the cancer was detected during a routine exam earlier in December.

“While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases,” Lewis said. “So I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it.”

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia

Lewis said his cancer is Stage 4, which means that it is has spread to other organs outside the pancreas. The five-year survival rate for Stage 4 pancreatic cancer is just 3 percent, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Lewis said he plans to return to Washington and begin treatment while continuing to serve in Congress.

“I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon,” he said.

Lewis, 79, has represented the Atlanta-based 5th District since 1987, routinely winning re-election with little opposition from the Peach State’s most Democratic district.

During the 1960s, as student leader in the civil rights movement, Lewis was among the first Freedom Riders who desegregated interstate bus transportation, and he also helped coordinate the 1963 March on Washington.

In 1965, Lewis was beaten and seriously injured while leading a group of marchers in Selma, Alabama, an event that helped spur passage of the Voting Rights Act.

News of Lewis’s cancer diagnosis prompted a bipartisan outpouring of support on Twitter.

“John, know that generations of Americans have you in their thoughts & prayers as you face this fight,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Georgia GOP Rep. Doug Collins called Lewis “a hero to Georgians and all Americans, including me. My respect and prayers are with this fighter as he faces a new battle.”

“John has never backed down from a fight, and I know he will battle cancer with the same courage and toughness he has always demonstrated,”said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Former President Barack Obama said “if there’s one thing I love about @RepJohnLewis, it’s his incomparable will to fight. I know he’s got a lot more of that left in him. Praying for you, my friend.”

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10 Southern U.S. House Democrats in seats flipped in 2018 all vote to impeach

List of supporters includes 5 Democrats who represent districts Trump carried in 2016

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — All 10 Southern U.S. House Democratic freshmen who flipped seats in 2018 voted in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump Wednesday, including five who represent districts the president carried in 2016.

The impeachment vote is likely to become a pivotal issue next year as these Democrats try to hang on to their seats against Republican challengers, in an election where Trump is at the top of the ballot.

After more than 10 hours of often acrimonious debate, all 50 Southern Democrats in the House voted for both of the articles of impeachment, which charge Trump with abusing his power and obstructing Congress.

Southern Republicans stuck with the president, with all 102 voting no.

The Democrats from districts Trump carried who voted yes were Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, and Joe Cunningham of South Carolina.

All of them had announced prior to the vote that they would support impeachment; McBath had already voted in favor in the House Judiciary Committee.

The two articles of impeachment were also supported by five other Democrats who flipped GOP-held seats in 2018 in districts that Trump did not carry — Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala of Florida.

Two other Democrats who hold seats the GOP is targeting in 2020 — Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist from Florida — also voted for impeachment.

The lone Republican in a Southern seat carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, Will Hurd of Texas, who is retiring in 2020, voted no, as did 13 other Southern Republicans who have announced they won’t seek another term next year.

The two articles of impeachment now move to the Senate for a trial, which is expected to begin in January. Trump will be removed from office if two-thirds of the senators vote to convict him on either article.

The final vote on the first article of impeachment was 230 to 197, with just two Democrats — Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota voting no. No Republicans voted yes.

The second article of impeachment passed 229 to 198, with another Democrat — Jared Golden of Maine — joining the GOP in voting no.

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2 Southern U.S. House Democrats in GOP-targeted seats support impeachment in Judiciary Committee

U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath of Georgia and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell vote to remove President Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two Southern freshman U.S. House Democrats who are on the Republicans’ 2020 target list — Lucy McBath of Georgia and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida — voted with their party Thursday in favor of articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump that were approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee vote on articles of impeachment, after a contentious debate that stretched across three days, was the first formal legislative step in the process of trying to remove Trump from office. The full House is expected to vote next week on the articles, which accuse Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Lucy McBath (left) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

McBath represents the 6th District in the northwestern Atlanta suburbs that Trump narrowly carried in 2016. The president lost Mucarsel-Powell’s 26th District, which includes the southern part of metro Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, by 16 points.

Republicans are targeting both seats in 2020.

During the debate on the impeachment articles, McBath said she was supporting them with “a heavy heart and a grieving soul.”

“I am greatly saddened by what we have learned, and I am forced to face a solemn conclusion — I believe the president abused the power of his office, putting his own interests above the needs of our nation, above the needs of the people that I love and serve,” she said.

“This is not why I came to Washington. I came to Washington because I love my country. I came to Washington full of hope, empowered by my community to serve them in Congress,” she said.

McBath also invoked the memory of her son, Jordan, whose murder in a racially charged shooting in 2012 started her down a road of activism that led her to Congress.

“I made a promise to my community that I would act. I promised that I would take that sense of protection, that love a mother has for her son, and I would use it for my community, for the American people,” she said.

McBath’s chief 2020 Republican opponent Karen Handel — whom McBath defeated in 2018 — said Americans remain “unmoved” by the “impeachment scam” and accused McBath of being “more interested in finding ways to take down President Trump than she is in finding the facts.”

“Lucy — it’s time to get back to work for GA6 and end these games,” Handel said in a Facebook post.

In her debate remarks, Mucarsel-Powell said she “did not come [to Congress] to impeach the president, but this president has violated the rule of law.”

“It is undeniable that this president has violated his oath of office, abused his power and obstructed Congress,” she said. “This is a clear and present danger to the future of our democracy.”

Mucarsel-Powell also said the issue of impeachment is “bigger than party, and the Constitution has no partisan allegiance.”

“We all agree that we cannot allow this president, or any future president, to abuse the power of the office,” she said. “We cannot accept a president who says, ‘America First,’ but really puts his own interest before the country.”

Mucarsel-Powell’s Republican opponent, Irina Vilariño, said “it saddens me that during this Christmas season, we are watching one party driven by politics and a personal agenda attempt to derail the American Presidency.”

“Unlike my opponent, I’m not interested in being a part of a political clique or spending all of my time trying to drag someone else down,” she said in a Facebook post. “I am interested in delivering common sense, practical leadership for our constituents and for our district.”

Eight other Southern Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who represent safe seats also voted for the articles of impeachment, including Steve Cohen of Tennessee; Hank Johnson of Georgia; Cedric Richmond of Louisiana; Ted Deutch and Val Demings of Florida; and Shelia Jackson Lee, Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar of Texas.

All eight Republicans on the committee voted against the impeachment articles, including Doug Collins of Georgia; Martha Roby of Alabama; Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube of Florida; Ben Cline of Virginia; Mike Johnson of Louisiana; and Louie Gohmert and John Ratcliffe of Texas.

Watch McBath’s full statement in the Judiciary Committee

Watch Mucarel-Powell’s full statement in the Judiciary Committee

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