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Burr decision sends shock waves through Senate

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBurr on 'unusual' Trump endorsement in NC Senate race: 'I can't tell you what motivates him' Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE's (R-N.C.) decision to temporarily step down as chairman of the Intelligence Committee sent shock waves through the Senate on Thursday. 

The announcement, made in a statement by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate GOP blocks voting rights bill Schumer, McConnell spar as GOP prepares to block voting bill Trump has 'zero desire' to be Speaker, spokesman says MORE (R-Ky.), visibly shocked several of Burr's colleagues, who appeared to be learning the news as reporters asked them about the decision. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate to vote on elections bill Congress barrels toward debt cliff Excellence Act will expand mental health and substance use treatment access to millions MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and the Intelligence Committee, appeared unaware that Burr had decided to step down. 

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"Has he done that?" Blunt said when asked by reporters 

Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal Rising violent crime poses new challenge for White House MORE (R-Fla.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPelosi quashes reports on Jan. 6 select committee White House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (R-Maine), who are also members of the panel, appeared to have not seen the statement from McConnell. 

"Oh wow," said Collins. "I don't know what to say, I truly didn't know about it. He's been an excellent chairman of the committee."

Collins and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerWhite House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, were later spotted having an animated discussion on the Senate floor. Collins then spoke with Burr, Warner and Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOn The Money: Democrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit | White House confident Congress will raise debt ceiling Psaki: Biden 'believes' Congress will lift debt limit despite spending battle Congress barrels toward debt cliff MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, near the well of the Senate.

Asked by a gaggle of reporters if he expected to become chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rubio appeared perplexed: "Um, why?" 

"I haven't heard that," he added when informed that McConnell had announced that Burr would step aside pending the outcome of the FBI's investigation. 

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McConnell's statement announcing the decision by Burr to step down temporarily came just as senators were arriving in the Capitol for a pre-scheduled noon vote. 

Rubio, asked as he left the vote if he got more information while on the floor, noted that the news was "just out." 

"I mean I wish they would time these things better," he quipped.

It was the latest turn since reports surfaced in March that the Justice Department was conducting a probe into Burr's sale of up to $1.72 million in stocks earlier this year. 

The stocks were sold in early February after senators received closed-door briefings on the national threat posed by the coronavirus, before most Americans were warned about the potential economic fallout of the pandemic.

Burr has denied that he used any information he learned in his capacity as a senator to guide his decisions regarding selling his stocks.

But the questions around the sales escalated on Wednesday night after the Los Angeles Times reported that the FBI had carried out a warrant to confiscate Burr's cellphone as part of its investigation. 

Burr and McConnell both said that the North Carolina senator called the GOP leader on Thursday morning to inform McConnell that he had decided to temporarily give up his chairmanship — a decision that McConnell said he agreed with. 

Burr also addressed the decision during a closed-door GOP lunch on Thursday, telling his colleagues that he decided to step aside "so that this didn’t cause a difficulty on the committee or within the conference." 

Republicans largely held back from questioning Burr on Thursday, with several saying that he deserved a presumption of innocence pending the outcome of the FBI investigation. 

Asked about Burr's comments in the lunch, Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal Overnight Defense: Senate panel delays Iraq war powers repeal | Study IDs Fort Hood as least-safe base for female soldiers | Pentagon loosens some COVID-19 restrictions MORE (R-S.D.) told CNN that "he was supported." 

No GOP senator had publicly called on him to step down from being chairman of the Intelligence Committee, though some pundits, including radio host Hugh Hewitt, have called on him to step down from being Intelligence Committee chairman while under investigation. 

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Burr's decision, which will go into effect on Friday, comes at a crucial moment for the committee. It's expected to vote next week on Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Five things to know about the new spotlight on UFOs Extraordinary explanations for UFOs look increasingly plausible MORE's nomination to be the next director of national intelligence and the committee is expected to release its final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election by the August recess. 

Senate GOP conference rules only require a senator to give up their gavel if they've been indicted with a felony. Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSchumer says Senate will vote on repealing 2002 war authorization The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week Sanders drops bid to block Biden's Israel arms sale MORE (D-N.J.) stepped down as ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee when he was indicted on corruption charges. 

But several senators indicated on Thursday afternoon that they supported Burr's decision. 

"I think he's trying to do what he thinks is the right thing and I respect that," said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynProgressive groups launch .5M ad buy to pressure Sinema on filibuster Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory The Senate is where dreams go to die MORE (R-Texas). 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (R-S.C.) added that he did not believe Burr had done "anything criminally wrong." 

"The bottom line is, let's just see how this turns out I've nothing but good things to say about Richard Burr," he said.