Inside the Senate’s sudden cryptocurrency showdown holding up the Biden infrastructure bill

Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Warner
Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Warner of Virginia.

  • Two bipartisan Senate gangs are engaged in a last-minute clash over cryptocurrency tax enforcement.
  • The fight is scrambling partisan politics and may provide a glimpse into future crypto regulations.
  • “We’re all working trying to resolve these issues,” Sen. Ron Wyden told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It’s a Senate fight causing an unusual cast of characters to team up: Jack Dorsey, head of Twitter, Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS, and Elon Musk of Tesla.

Those three are on the same side in an unexpected clash among senators racing to pass President Joe Biden’s $550 billion infrastructure bill sometime early next week.

Two bipartisan Senate gangs are dueling in a sudden showdown over cryptocurrency tax enforcement in the legislation. It’s a fight that’s scrambled the partisan politics Congress is usually known for and provides a glimpse into how lawmakers may further regulate the burgeoning trillion-dollar industry.

GOP Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, along with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon are partnering on an amendment to exempt cryptocurrency miners, software developers, and protocol developers from tax reporting requirements because they say they’re unable to produce the information to comply. These miners are individuals and companies who generate digital coins.

The crypto overhaul triggered last-minute pushback from the White House, which sought to preserve the Treasury Department’s flexibility to draft new rules. The Biden administration endorsed a rival amendment on Thursday from Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. They said it would lead to greater tax compliance.

The measure would exempt a significant number of actors, but not to the extent the Wyden amendment does. There were few immediate signs of progress on Saturday. But talks are ongoing and could be reaching a critical juncture.

“We’re all working trying to resolve these issues,” Wyden said in an interview Saturday evening. “I continue to feel very strongly I want to crack down on tax cheats and people associated with these centralized programs, crypto exchanges.. I just don’t want to destroy the innovation that comes from a decentralized network.”

Toomey, in an interview on Saturday, said “There are constructive conversations going on.” “I certainly hope we’re gonna get to a resolution because the underlying text is badly flawed and needs to be fixed,” he said.

Where lawmakers stand on cryptocurrency taxes

Crypto coins circle
crypto coins circle

Last month, a bipartisan group of senators struck a deal with the Biden administration to include new tax reporting measures on the cryptocurrency industry. It was part of an effort to generate new revenue to finance the infrastructure bill.

But it came under heavy criticism from cryptocurrency investors and advocates who argued it could devastate the industry with onerous information requirements many are simply unable to produce.

“It has language that would allow Treasury to sweep in vast amounts of all kinds of actors and code that are not brokers in the normal understanding of that word,” Jerry Brito, executive director of the cryptopolicy think-tank Coin Center, told Insider. Brokers allow traders to sell and buy cryptocurrencies.

It prompted Wyden, Toomey, and Lummis to unveil their own version. It’s an unusual coalition with a liberal anxious about government overstepping into the tech world and two conservatives wary of burdensome rules on the financial sector.

It also garnered support from a disparate cast of characters, including Tesla CEO Musk, rock star Gene Simmons and Twitter’s Dorsey, who assailed the new crypto rules.

Then Warner, Portman, and Sinema offered their amendment earlier in the week in a bid to strike a compromise. Wyden suggested he was blindsided by the Biden administration coming out in support of it. “I really didn’t know about any of this as chairman of the [Senate] Finance Committee,” Wyden said.

Some experts say the Warner version would limit Treasury’s ability to levy new rules. “My concern is the Wyden amendment would narrow the field too much and leave too much ambiguity and room for litigation,” Jason Furman, former chief economist to President Barack Obama, said in a recent interview. “Treasury needs flexibility not to have its hands tied.”

Some lawmakers were still undecided on which amendment to support. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, one of the GOP architects of the infrastructure bill, told Insider on Saturday he was “still looking at them both.”

Others like Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of South Dakota had made up their minds. “I like the Toomey one,” Cramer told Insider, adding he wanted to “shrink the net” that would be cast on the industry.

Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia jumped into the talks late on Saturday as a possible mediator.

Portman confirmed Ossoff was playing a role in the negotiations on Sunday. “I’ve been working with colleagues Sens. Warner, Wyden, Toomey, Lummis, Ossoff, Sinema on a potential solution I believe will help reassure stakeholders these individuals will not be considered brokers while maintaining info reporting in this bipartisan legislation,” he said in a floor speech.

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The Biden administration is gearing up to sell $735 million of smart bombs to Israel, as conflict rages on with Gaza

Israeli artillery firing at the border of Israel and Gaza.
Israeli soldiers stand by an artillery unit at the border between Israel and Gaza on May 17, 2021.

  • The White House approved $735 million worth of precision weapons to Israel and told Congress on May 5.
  • That was about a week before the deadly clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.
  • Lawmakers have 15 days to object to the proposal. Some Democrats are unhappy with it and want a delay.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden’s administration is readying a $735 million sale of precision-guided weapons sale to Israel, a move that was prepared a week before the country became embroiled in deadly conflict with Gaza, multiple reports said.

The White House notified Congress of the plan on May 5, five days before the Gaza militant group Hamas started firing rockets toward Israel, and Israel retaliated with airstrikes, sources familiar with the plans told The Washington Post and CNN.

The conflict has now stretched into its second week of fighting, with more than 2,500 Hamas rockets directed towards Israel, killing 10 as of May 16, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli air and artillery strikes have flattened buildings and infrastructure in Gaza, with Hamas reporting at least 197 Palestinians killed, according to Al Jazeera. Gazan and Israeli authorities disagree on how many of the Palestinian victims were militants, the BBC reported.

Biden expressed support for a cease-fire in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday after growing pressure from top Democrats. He had previously held back, saying that Israel had “the right to defend itself.”

Press Secretary Jen Psaki told a Monday press briefing that the administration was making use of “intensive, quiet diplomacy behind the scenes.”

The proposed weapons sale is largely of kits that convert unguided rockets into precision missiles, according to The Post. Lawmakers have 15 days – until May 20 – to object, but a resolution of disapproval would be nonbinding, The Post reported.

Such moves have generally gone without objection in Congress, but in the shadow of the current conflict, the Israeli arms sale is now being questioned by a small number of progressive Democratic voices.

Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on August 11, 2020.

‘We’re lucky to catch this weapons sale’

Rep. Ilhan Omar said in a statement Monday that it would be “appalling” if the sale went ahead unconditionally.

“We should be standing unequivocally and consistently on the side of human rights – holding all state and non-state actors accountable for their crimes and using every tool at our disposal to end the violence and bring about peace,” she said.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee met Monday night to discuss the sale, and decided to ask for it to be delayed, Politico reported.

“We’re lucky to catch this weapons sale,” an unnamed Democratic aide told The Post.

Regardless, The Post noted that it would be “highly unlikely” that Congress can block the arms sale by pushing through a disapproval resolution in time.

The resistance comes amid a broader questioning of the Biden administration’s stance toward the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Twenty-nine Democratic senators, led by Sen. Jon Ossoff, called for an immediate cease-fire in the conflict on Sunday night in an implicit rebuke to Biden’s hesitation at the time to do so.

Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted Sunday that the US should take a “hard look” at the aid its sends to Israel every year.

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Members of the 116th Congress rail against social-media companies but posted to Twitter and Facebook a record 2.2 million times

AOC
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, seen here on August 24, 2020, was one of the most followed members of Congress during her freshman term.

  • Members of the 116th Congress broke records for their social media posts and followers in 2019 and 2020.
  • The Pew Research Center found lawmakers made 2.2 million posts to Twitter and Facebook, far eclipsing past years.
  • Savvy Congress members use social media to meet their constituents without relying on traditional media.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Members of Congress in total made more than 2.2 million posts to Twitter and Facebook during the 116th Congress, from January 2019 through December 2020, an analysis by the Pew Research Center published Tuesday found.

The numbers for the 116th Congress eclipsed data collected during the previous two sessions. The research center began collecting data on members’ social media usage during the 114th Congress, starting in 2015. The most recent Congress produced about 738,000 more posts on Twitter and Facebook than the 114th Congress, according to Pew.

The data comes as lawmakers call for changes to social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook. Democrats have argued social media companies are too big and wield too great of power with too little oversight, accusing the platforms of fostering extremism.

Republicans, meanwhile, have in recent years claimed that social-media companies limit free speech by moderating their platforms, especially following Twitter’s decision in January to permanently ban President Donald Trump and other Republicans for violating platform rules.

Read more: A new $3.4 billion DHS cloud contract could kick off a fierce battle between cloud giants like Amazon and Microsoft, analysts say

According to the study, members of Congress posted twice as many times to Twitter as they did on Facebook, though posting on both platforms has “risen substantially and consistently” since the nonpartisan think tank began collecting data five years ago.

Facebook posts and tweets received more than 2 billion combined favorites, likes, or other reactions, according to the study, up from just 356 million during the 114th Congress. Shares and retweets also increased from 110 million in the 114th Congress to 500 million during the 116th Congress.

Democrats dominated the list of members with over 1 million followers

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent and former candidate for president, had more followers than any other member of Congress with more than 21.7 million followers across Twitter and Facebook at the end of 2020. Data analyzed by Pew shows that in the 116th Congress, Democrats accounted for the majority of members with more than 1 million followers on social media.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican who made headlines for publicly breaking with Trump throughout his presidency, was the fourth most-followed member of the 116th Congress with more than 12 million followers across his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He was the only GOP member in the top five most followed.

The second-most followed member of Congress across Facebook and Twitter as of late last year was Vice President Kamala Harris, then a Democratic senator from California and the vice president-elect. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, had the third-most followers, while Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was in fifth place.

Social media offers savvy lawmakers an alternative to reach their constituents and younger audiences

Dr. Vincent Raynauld, an Emerson College professor in Boston who studies how social media impacts politics, told Insider that the trend is unsurprising, given how members of Congress and other politicians have used social media as their primary way to reach their constituents.

Social media also affords politicians, from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Texas Sen. Tex Cruz, the opportunity to connect with their audience without the need to go through traditional media outlets, especially as the market has become crowded with fringe outlets like Newsmax and One America News, he said.

It can also allow them to spread their own talking points without pushback they may receive through participating in more traditional media avenues, like on cable news or in print. Elected officials, Raynauld said, have turned to social media especially as attacks on the press have eroded the American public’s trust in traditional media.

In addition to Twitter and Facebook, elected leaders in recent months have turned to other platforms to meet their constituents where they hang out, he noted, as they attempt to curate a younger audience. Ocasio-Cortez has live-streamed on popular gaming platform Twitch, while others, like the newly elected Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia, have had success with TikTok, the platform that has been controversial among political candidates and elected leaders.

Raynauld said politicians and their staff who are more technologically savvy often use the platforms differently.

Twitter and Facebook are better suited for tweets about politics and general news and policy while platforms like Instagram and TikTok can more appropriately be used to build a brand that allows the public to see politicians as less political and more “human,” he said.

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Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia has to quarantine days before the all-important runoff race for his seat

David Perdue
  • The Republican Senator David Perdue has been forced to go into quarantine after coming into contact with a person who has COVID-19, his campaign said.
  • Perdue will have to step back from the closely fought race against Democrat Jon Ossoff, only days from the election on January 5.
  • The Georgia contest outcome where Sen.Kelly Loeffler will also face off against Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock will decide which party controls the Senate.
  • If Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock both win, Democrats will control the legislative and executive branches, allowing for Joe Biden to more easily accomplish his legislative goals.
  • A newly released poll from JMC Analytics and Polling found Warnock and Ossoff leading over Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue as early votes are cast.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Georgia’s Republican Senator David Perdue has been forced to go into quarantine after being exposed to someone with COVID-19, his campaign has said.

The senator will have to step back from the all-important election battle, just days from the election on Tuesday, January 5.

On behalf of the 71-year-old his campaign said, in a statement issued on Thursday: “This morning, Senator Perdue was notified that he came into close contact with someone on the campaign who tested positive for COVID-19.

“Both Senator Perdue and his wife tested negative today, but following his doctor’s recommendations and in accordance with CDC guidelines, they will quarantine. The Senator and his wife have been tested regularly throughout the campaign, and the team will continue to follow CDC guidelines.”

The announcement came 30 minutes before Perdue was due to speak at a campaign event in Gainsville, alongside Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, CNN reported.

Battle for control of the Senate

The outcome of the Georgia contest where Sen.Kelly Loeffler will also faceoff against Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock will decide which party controls the Senate.

If Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock both win, Democrats will control the legislative and executive branches, allowing for Joe Biden to more easily accomplish his legislative goals.

On Wednesday, Insider reported that a newly released runoff poll found that the Democratic candidates were widening their leads.

The JMC poll, conducted with 500 respondents on Monday and Tuesday, found Ossoff ahead of Perdue 50% to 43%, or 7 points, with 7% of respondents saying they were undecided.

The divide between Warnock and Loeffler in the poll was even larger: Warnock was ahead 53% to 44%, or 9 points, with 3% of respondents saying they were undecided.

JMC is one of just a handful of pollsters participating in the Senate runoffs – many of the most recognized and reputable pollsters have not conducted any polls since the general election in November.

A recent survey conducted by SurveyUSA found Ossoff with a 5-percentage-point lead and Warnock with a 7-point lead. And according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling tracker, the margin of support has steadily increased for the Democratic candidates in polls conducted since the general election on November 3.

Nick Gourevitch, a Democratic pollster with Global Strategy Group, recently told Politico that trusting the accuracy of polls in Georgia following the tumultuous presidential polling would be a mistake.

 

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Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff delivered a verbal one-two punch when a Fox News crew approached him at a campaign stop on live TV

jon ossoff georgia senate race
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff of Georgia speaks to supporters during a rally on November 15, 2020 in Marietta, Georgia. Ossoff faces incumbent U.S. Sen. David Purdue (R-GA) in one of two January 5 runoffs for the U.S. Senate in Georgia.

  • Jon Ossoff, the Democratic challenger to Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, took a jab at the state’s two Republican Senators ahead of the runoff election next week. 
  • Ossoff ripped Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler and accused them of “blatantly” using their offices to “enrich themselves.”
  • Both Perdue and Loeffler were accused of insider trading. WERE THEY CLEARED???
  • Ossoff also claimed that attacks on Loeffler’s challenger Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock were ploys to distract away from Loeffler “campaigning” with a former Klansman. 
  • Loeffler was photographed earlier this month with Chester Doles, a former KKK chief and member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, but denied knowing who he was. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff took the opportunity to slam Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for what he alleged was using their offices to “enrich themselves” after a Fox News crew approached him while live on air.

Ossoff is in a runoff election against Perdue, and he called on the Fox News audience to look beyond partisanship ahead of the runoff election. 

“We have two United States Senators in Georgia who have blatantly used their offices to enrich themselves. This is beyond partisanship. And the reason to your question that I talk about health and jobs and justice for all the people is that we can unite behind that program,” Ossoff claimed.  

 

He proposed working to reopen the nine rural hospitals that closed in the state, raise the minimum wage, and pass “landmark civil rights and voting rights legislation to secure equal justice for all.”

Both Loeffler and Perdue have shrugged off criticism over buying and selling stocks while in office.

The US Justice Department began an investigation into Loeffler after she sold millions of dollars in stocks in January after she had a private briefing from officials on the coronavirus. Loeffler, a multimillionaire, is also married to the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.

The investigation did not lead to charges, but Loeffler has avoided answering questions about whether or not US Senators should be allowed to trade stocks when they’re still in office and recently called questions into her trading a “left-wing media lie” and a “conspiracy.”

Perdue also came under scrutiny for buying stock in a personal protective equipment company on the same day he got a classified Senate briefing on the coronavirus. A US Justice Department investigation was also dropped without charges. 

Ossoff also addressed whether allegations of domestic abuse against Rev. Raphael Warnock who is working to unseat Loeffler would hinder the Democratic ticket. 

Warnock’s ex-wife accused the candidate of running over her foot during a domestic dispute in March in newly released police body-camera footage. 

Ouleye Ndoye told officers Warnock ran over her foot while trying to leave with their two children. 

“This man’s running for the United States Senate, and all he cares about right now is his reputation,” Ndoye can be heard telling the officer.

Warnock told officers that he believed he was far away and had barely moved his car.

“I barely moved,” he said. “And all of a sudden she’s screaming that I ran over her foot. I don’t believe it.”

He was not charged with a crime and medical officials said there wasn’t any sign of injury to Ndoye’s foot. 

Ossoff said the accusations against Warnock were an attempt by Loeffler to “distract from the fact that she’s campaigning with a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Earlier this month, Loeffler was photographed with Chester Doles, a former KKK chief and member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance.

Doles posted the photo of himself and Loeffler on the Russian social network VKontakte (VK) on Friday with the caption “Kelly Leoffener [sic] and I. Save America, stop Socialism!”

Loeffler said that she did not know who Doles was when she posed for the photo. 

“Kelly had no idea who that was, and if she had she would have kicked him out immediately because we condemn in the most vociferous terms everything that he stands for,” Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Loeffler’s campaign. 

Loeffler’s office did not reply to Business Insider’s request for comment at the time of publication. 

 

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: salarshani@insider.com

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Newly-released Georgia Senate runoff polls show Democratic candidates with a widening lead

Rev Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff meet in a georgia senate runoff rally
Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock greet each other onstage during the “Vote GA Blue” concert for Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff at New Birth Church on December 28, 2020.

  • The two Georgia Senate runoff elections will decide whether Republicans maintain control of the Senate. If Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock both win, Democrats will control the legislative and executive branches, allowing for President-elect Joe Biden to accomplish his legislative goals with greater ease.
  • According to newly-released polls from JMC Analytics and Polling, Warnock and Perdue have grown their projected leads wider than ever before as early votes continue to be cast.
  • JMC is one of just a handful of pollsters participating in the Senate runoffs — many of the most-recognized and most-reputable pollsters have not conducted any polls since the general election in November.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock have widened their projected leads against incumbent Republican candidates Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the Senate runoff elections in Georgia, according to a newly-released poll from JMC Analytics and Polling

The JMC polls, conducted between December 28-29, show Ossoff ahead of Perdue in a 50-43 percentage point margin – 7% of respondents were undecided. The divide between Warnock and Loeffler in the poll is even larger with Warnock ahead in a 53-44 percentage point margin with just 3% of respondents undecided. 

When asked how and when the survey takers would vote, 91% of respondents noted that they had already voted or planned to vote early in-person or by mail. Just 7% of respondents said they planned to vote on election day. 

In November, about 20% of the state’s votes were cast on election day. If JMC’s polling is correct, Loeffler and Perdue will need to receive far more of Georgia’s 2.6 million early votes than expected.

The two elections will have a direct impact on the beginning of President-elect Joe Biden’s presidency: If Ossoff and Warnock succeed in their respective races, the Democratic party will have control of the entirety of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government and would allow Biden to accomplish his legislative goals with greater ease.

But while JMC’s polling is a good sign for Democrats, it is one of only a handful of pollsters which have participated in the Georgia Senate runoffs.

The 2020 presidential election was home to hundreds of polls throughout the country – some of which were grossly off, leading to backlash.

Nick Gourevitch, a Democratic pollster with Global Strategy Group, told Politico that expecting trust in the Georgia polls following the tumultuous presidential polling results would be a mistake.

“Everybody fundamentally understands that it’s going to become an issue of partisan turnout,” Gourevitch said. “And anybody who tells you they know exactly what’s going to happen in terms of partisan turnout in a special election with two senators to decide control of the Senate in a post-Trump era when he’s not on the [ballot] – nobody knows the answer to that question. It’s a completely unique situation.”

Nate Silver, the editor-in-chief and founder of FiveThirtyEight, thinks the answer is even simpler: “I think pollsters are being chicken,” he said on FiveThirtyEight podcast on Tuesday.

Following the general election, FiveThirtyEight has tracked just 20 polls, many of which come from smaller, less experienced polling groups.

“You are not polling,” Silver said in reference to many of the large university-aligned pollsters, “because you are scared of being wrong… Pollsters don’t want to put their necks on the line because we live in a world where people are not very rational about probabilities and uncertainty.” 

President Trump’s recent defiance of the GOP is not helping Republican candidates.

Trump Georgia rally
President Donald Trump headlined a campaign rally in Valdosta, Ga., for Sens. David Perdue, left, and Kelly Loeffler, right.

Trump, for his part, has put Loeffler and Perdue in difficult political positions throughout their respective Senate runoff campaigns.

While Loeffler and Perdue have both ran as unwavering allies of Trump, with the president traveling to the state to headline a December 5 rally on their behalf, he mostly used the event to air grievances about his own election, repeatedly making debunked claims of voter fraud and falsely stating that he won the state over Biden.

Trump has repeatedly jousted with top Georgia Republicans from Gov. Brian Kemp to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, creating a sense of political disunity, which party members can ill afford if they are to win both races against well-funded Democratic challengers who have strong support from Biden and the party base.

The president’s consistent pressure campaign against the statewide election results drove Loeffler and Perdue to call for Raffensperger’s resignation last month, which the secretary of state firmly rejected.

When the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill passed both houses of Congress, it included $600 direct stimulus checks, which Trump said was too low. Warnock and Ossoff have both been pressing for increased direct aid for months, and it has emerged as a major campaign issue in both Senate races.

Before Trump’s push for increased direct aid, Loeffler and Perdue touted their support for the compromise relief bill. However, with the president calling the $600 figure a “disgrace,” Loeffler quickly backed his proposal for $2,000 stimulus checks on December 29, followed by Perdue on the same day. 

Previously, Loeffler had been on the fence about increased stimulus payments, while Perdue has generally opposed stimulus checks, which Ossoff has highlighted in his campaign.

Despite Trump not actually being on the ballot, his legacy is at stake. Loeffler and Perdue still have to closely align themselves with the president to win or risk turning off his most ardent supporters.

With control of the Senate on the line and Democrats in a solid position to capture both seats, Loeffler and Perdue have to increase turnout on their side or a blue wave will give Biden the unified government that he needs to enact his agenda.

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Jon Ossoff has raised more money than any Senate candidate in US history in heated Georgia runoff election

Warnock and Ossoff
FILE: Democratic candidate for Senate Jon Ossoff, right, and Democratic candidate for Senate Raphael G Warnock, left, arrive before they speak to a crowd during a “Get Out the Early Vote” event at the SluttyVegan ATL restaurant on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Jonesboro, Ga.

  • John Ossoff, the Georgia Democrat vying to oust the incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue, has become the highest-funded candidate for Senate in US history, The New York Times first reported.
  • According to data from the Federal Election Commission, Ossoff raised $106.7 million between October 15 and December 16.
  • Also in Georgia, Reverend Raphael Warnock, the Democrat seeking to replace the Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler, raised $103.3 million during the same time, according to the data. 
  • The Georgia runoff election, triggered with none of the candidates in either race received enough votes to win, has garnered national attention because the victors determine whether Republicans maintain control of the Senate.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Jon Ossoff, the Georgia Democrat embattled in the heated runoff race against Republican Sen. David Perdue, the incumbent, has become the highest-funded senatorial candidate of all time, The New York Times first reported Friday.

The news comes following the release of the latest round of fundraising data from the Federal Elections Commission, covering the period between October 15 and December 16. During that period, Ossoff raised $106.7 million. Perdue raised $68 million during the same period, according to the FEC data.

Reverend Raphael Warnock, who is also embattled in a heated Georgia runoff race against incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler raised $103.3 million during the same period, according to the data. Loeffler raised approximately $64 million during the fundraising period, according to the FEC.

In both races during the general election, neither candidate received enough of the vote to be declared the winner, triggering a runoff election scheduled for January 5. The Georgia runoff races have captured nationwide attention because the winner of the races determines which party will control the US Senate.

If Ossoff and Warnock win both of their races, the Senate majority will be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. But, if either Perdue or Loeffler wins, the GOP will continue to hold the power in the Senate, creating a roadblock for the Democrat-controlled House and president-elect Joe Biden, also a Democrat.

Biden flipped the state of Georgia blue during the general election, which was one of the states that proved key to his victory over President Donald Trump.  

Nearly half of the donations to Warnock and Ossoff were under $200, The New York Times noted. Just about 30% of donations to Perdue and Loeffler were from small donors, according to the data.

Both Ossoff and Warnock’s fundraising during the quarter surpassed the previous record broken by Jaime Harrison, who raised $57 million in a single quarter in his failed campaign against South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. 

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If Democrats want to win in Georgia and seize the Senate, they need to go on the attack

Trump Georgia rally
President Donald Trump headlined a campaign rally in Valdosta, Ga., for Sens. David Perdue, left, and Kelly Loeffler, right.

  • Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are running for two Senate seats and control of the Senate hangs in the balance.
  • Down ballot Democrats struggled on Election Day because they went on the defensive. To win in Georgia and take back the Senate, Democrats need to go on the offensive and attack the GOP.
  • A great line of attack for Democrats in Georgia would be to pin the Republican candidates — Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — to the GOP’s biggest loser: Donald Trump.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Despite the hopes for a “Blue Wave,” Republicans surprised Democrats and many election analysts in November by holding onto 50 seats in the US Senate – just one seat away from retaining their majority. As usual, Democrats underestimated the Republican attack machine and the power of their false claims about Democratic socialism and defunding the police

But despite the strong GOP showing, there are two final Senate seats still up for grabs. The good people of Georgia have the chance to prevent Sen. Mitch McConnell from remaining majority leader and the grim reaper of progress. 

In the two runoffs that will decide control of the Senate, the Democratic candidates face historically long odds. Both contests are tight, and both Democratic candidates began their races as the underdog. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and Democrats need to leave it all on the field. 

The GOP has overperformed by keeping the Democrats on defense. In order to pull off their own Senate surprise, Democrats must flip the field and go on offense. 

Tie ’em to Trump

In November, the Georgia electorate joined a chorus of battleground victories in rejecting Trumpism. The statewide win for President-elect Joe Biden shows a path forward for Democrats. They should put the GOP’s biggest loser back on the ballot in the Peach State in order to secure a win in January. 

Even after President Donald Trump’s loss, Senate Republicans have shown that there is no daylight between themselves and the outgoing commander. Their latest hits include shrugging their shoulders when the president fired officials who defied him and hiding when he alleged voter fraud with no substantive evidence. 

In recent weeks, GOP senators have reached alarming levels of brazenness. Their bullying of Georgia election officials failed to strip power from Georgia voters but succeeded in showing the GOP’s disregard for law and the democratic process. 

Equally alarming has been Senate Republicans’ failure to denounce violent threats against election officials – and the dangerous rhetoric from the president and his team that incited these threats. Their tacit approval of violence has put the safety of Georgians – including many Republicans – at risk

Even Attorney General Bill Barr and the US Supreme Court have stood up to Trump on his election charade, but the Senate GOP is a profile in cowardice, not courage.

A vote against dysfunction

For their parts, Georgia’s GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have made no moves to jump off the Trump train. In fact, they’ve become first class passengers. The pair have been loyal battleground soldiers in Trump’s futile election fight. 

They have attacked honorable Georgia Republicans doing their jobs – or stood silently while the President came after GOP allies. They sided with a lawsuit against their state that the Republican Attorney General had strongly condemned. They fan the flames of chaos as tensions and threats increase in their state.

As Loeffler and Perdue continue to stand with the President and refuse to acknowledge his defeat, it’s clear who’s really on the ballot in these runoffs.

They have tied themselves inextricably to Trump and have made it clear that a vote for them is a vote for all things Trump: his failure on the pandemic, his tanking of the economy, and his all-out assault on the will of Georgia’s electorate.

Votes for Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are votes for progress and against the dysfunction in Washington that McConnell and company will surely bring. They also will be votes against the lame duck who is departing January 20. 

The alternative is gridlock and partisanship that will benefit no one other than our nation’s enemies. Democrats should label Senate Republicans as the Trump puppets they are and drive home that unless they are defanged, they will smear President-elect Joe Biden’s term with a bright orange stain. 

It’s time for Democrats to make the election – and the country – about the collective GOP failure of the past four years. Everything the national majority voted for in November depends on it. 

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Jon Ossoff is betting that TikTok can boost young voters in Georgia’s heated runoff race – and his chances don’t look bad

Jon Ossoff TikTok
Democrat candidate for Senate Jon Ossoff has joined TikTok as he campaigns for his January 5 runoff election against Republican Sen. David Perdue.

  • Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is less than a month away from his runoff election against incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue, is now using TikTok to reach young voters.
  • Over the past week, Ossoff gained more than 110,000 followers, posting videos that encouraged people in Georgia to register to vote by Monday’s deadline to vote in the runoff.
  • Despite its quickly growing popularity, only a few political candidates in 2020 took the plunge to TikTok this year and saw varying results.
  • US leaders, namely President Donald Trump, have expressed concerns over the app’s ownership by the Chinese company ByteDance, and Trump launched a so-far failed attempt to ban it in the country.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Georgia teens want to flip the Senate in runoffs set to take place in less than one month. 

So, it comes as little surprise that Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff, who is embattled in the heated Senate runoff race against Republican Sen. David Perdue, has turned to TikTok as of early December.

In less than a week after he began posting videos as part of his campaign’s effort to woo young voters, Ossoff has gained thousands of TikTok followers. The 33-year-old candidate, posting as @jon, has amassed more than 110,700 followers as of Tuesday afternoon, the byproduct of just 10 videos that, in total, have brought in 1.4 million likes.

His most-viewed TikTok video was posted Friday and has earned over 1.5 million views and more than 379,000 likes.  In the video – a mashup of several clips from previous Ossoff events -the Senate hopeful asks “has anyone seen David Perdue,” painting his opponent as an out-of-touch and absent politician.

GettyImages
GettyImages

Democrats are hoping to further capitalize on Georgia’s unprecedented turnout of young voters, who were vital in helping Biden win the state. Voters aged 18-29 accounted for about 20% of the overall vote in Georgia, according to data analyzed by CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. About 58% of the youth vote went to Biden, compared to the 39% that Trump received, according to the data. 

An estimated 23,000 Georgia teens will be eligible to vote for the first time on January 5, as they turned 18 after the November election. In one TikTik video posted Sunday, Ossoff encouraged those who became eligible to vote between November and January to register to vote by Monday’s deadline. 

“Georgia’s unprecedented youth turnout in the general election was a result of years of Georgia Democrats’ hard work and Jon’s relentless focus on turning out young voters. Our digital program’s strategy is intended to meet young voters where they are: online,” Miryam Lipper, a campaign spokesperson told Business Insider. 

Although TikTok has not publicly released data about the demographics of its users, a report in October from Piper Sandler found it had become the second-most popular social media app for teenagers in the US, behind Snapchat but ahead of Instagram. Ossoff’s campaign has also made investments in Snapchat  – a platform broadly used by younger people – “to share Ossoff’s life on the campaign trail” ahead of the runoff election, as The Verge reported earlier in December.

“TikTok is one creative element we’re using to speak to young voters about the issues that impact their lives, like stopping the spread of coronavirus, protecting our environment, tackling student loan debt, and passing a New Civil Rights Act,” Lipper said.

 

@jon

##duet with @stanzipotenza Thanks Stanzi for getting out the word – I had to duet. Today is the LAST day to register to vote for the January 5th runoff

♬ original sound – Stanzi

 

Stanzi Potenza, a 25-year-old actor from Boston, made one of the videos Ossoff shared: an 80s-style infomercial that encouraged young Georgians to register to vote.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Potenza said about Ossoff’s pivot to TikTok, adding that “it’s a great way to communicate with younger generations.

“Making an effort to be engaging with younger people will encourage younger people to vote and register to vote and let them know their voice is valuable,” she said.

A popular TikTok presence hasn’t always netted success for candidates

GettyImages

But whether a large TikTok presence and eager following turn out voters so far remains a mystery, even as the app cements itself as a social-media powerhouse.

Experts who spoke to Insider earlier this year were split about whether candidates would regret ignoring the fast-growing social-media platform. Annie Levene, a partner at the DC-based digital marketing agency Rising Tide Interactive, told Insider in October that TikTok, more than other platforms, required a certain level of authenticity, potentially posing roadblocks to candidates and their social teams.

Candidates like Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, who embraced the platform, successfully won their contentious races for office. Other candidates who amassed TikTok popularity, however, failed to garner the same enthusiasm at the ballot box. 

Self-described socialist Joshua Collins, who made headlines for his TikTok campaign earlier this year, lost his primary US House race in Washington in a landslide. And, Matt Little, a Democrat state senator in Minnesota known to his more than 166,000 TikTok followers as the “Little Senator,” lost his bid for re-election. Kelly Krout, who presently has a TikTok following of over 53,000, similarly lost her bid for the Arkansas State House.  

Whether politicians themselves join the platform, teens and young adults have used TikTok to voice their political concerns and opinions. Videos using #jonossoff, made mostly by creators unaffiliated with his campaign, have amassed approximately 9.9 million views, according to TikTok

Throughout 2020, TikTok has been the subject of numerous bipartisan concerns and political controversy over its parent company, the China-based ByteDance. The concerns bubbled up this summer when President Donald Trump began an attempt to force a sale of TikTok to a US company, or otherwise force it to cease US operations. 

Both presidential hopefuls this year steered clear of TikTok. Trump’s absence from the platform was unsurprising given his months-long, and so far fruitless attempt to ban the Chinese-owned app. But his rival, President-elect Joe Biden was also notably absent from the platform, asking campaign staff to delete the app from their phones, despite the legion of teens and young adults using the platform as unofficial surrogates for his campaign.

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Jon Ossoff debated an empty podium and called Sen. David Perdue a ‘coward’ for skipping the debate one month ahead of the Senate runoff election

ossoff debate georgia runoff
Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff speaks during a debate for U.S. Senate on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Atlanta. Sen. David Perdue declined to attend the debate.

  • Democrat Jon Ossoff debated an empty podium Sunday night in Atlanta, Georgia after his opponent, Republican Sen. David Perdue, declined to participate in the event.
  • Ossoff is challenging Perdue in the Georgia Senate runoff election on January 5, which will determine which party takes control of the US Senate.
  • After sharing what he would’ve asked Perdue had he appeared at the debate, Ossoff said, “If the senator were not too much of a coward to debate in public, then that’s what I’d ask him,” he said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Democrat Jon Ossoff debated an empty podium Sunday night in Atlanta, Georgia after his opponent, Republican Sen. David Perdue, declined to participate in the event.

Ossoff is challenging Perdue in the Georgia Senate runoff election on January 5, which will help determine which party takes control of the US Senate.

A debate moderator asked Ossoff what he would’ve asked Perdue had the senator agreed to appear at the debate.

“I think what I would ask him is why he continues to oppose $1200 stimulus checks for the American people at this moment of crisis,” Ossoff said. “Why he fought against them in the first place, and why he isn’t in Washington right now championing direct financial relief.”

“If the senator were not too much of a coward to debate in public, then that’s what I’d ask him,” he said.

Ossoff also said his opponent may be concerned about incriminating himself over personal financial investments that have come under scrutiny. The senator has denied any wrongdoing. 

When Perdue declined to participate in the debate, his campaign manager, Ben Fry, told The Associated Press, “We’ve already had two debates in this election.”

“We’re going to take our message about what’s at stake if Democrats have total control of Congress directly to the people,” he said.

Perdue appeared at a campaign event Saturday night alongside President Donald Trump, who spent much of the time contesting his own election results, and GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who is also running in the runoff election.

Unlike Perdue, Loeffler did participate in a debate with her challenger, Democrat Raphael Warnock, on Sunday. She again declined to acknowledge that Trump lost the election to President-elect Joe Biden.

Democrats need to win both runoff races to take control of the Senate, something experts says Biden may need in order to accomplish much of his policy agenda at the outset of his term.

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