Burr was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, the son of Martha (née Gillum) and The Rev. David Horace White Burr, a minister. He graduated from Richard J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, N.C. in 1974 and earned a B.A. in Communications from Wake Forest University in 1978. Burr was on the football team at both Reynolds High School and Wake Forest. Burr lettered for the Demon Deacons during the 1974 and 1975 seasons. He is a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.
Prior to running for Congress, Burr worked for 17 years as a sales manager for Carswell Distributing Company, a distributor of lawn equipment. Burr is currently a board member of Brenner Children's Hospital, as well as of the group Idealliance—a group of local, academic, and government officials working to expand North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad Research Park. Burr is also a board member of the West Point Board of Visitors.
Burr has been married to Brooke Fauth Burr, a real estate agent, since 1984, and the couple have two sons, Tyler and William.
Burr's father, a minister, said that Burr is a 12th cousin of Aaron Burr, the former Vice President, Senator, lawyer, and Continental Army officer known most for killing Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel and for being arrested, indicted, and ultimately acquitted for treason. Richard Burr is the first Burr in the Senate since Aaron Burr served as the Senator from New York—and only the second person with his last name to win election to Congress (the first being the presumably unrelated Albert G. Burr)—since Aaron. Sen. Burr himself has stated that there are no longer any direct descendants of Aaron Burr, and that he descends from Aaron's brother. However, it is more likely that Senator Burr is descended from the brother of Aaron's father as biographies of Aaron Burr state that he had only an older sister, that his parents died young and they were raised by his father's brother.
When queried, Burr states that he has tempered pride of the association: "I am [proud] ... though history has proved to shine a different light on him."
In 1992, Burr ran against incumbent Democratic Representative Stephen L. Neal and lost. He ran again in 1994 after Neal chose not to seek re-election, and was elected to Congress during a landslide year for Republicans. He ran on a platform that advocated accountability for the federal government, lower health care costs, economic development, and strong school systems.
While in the House, Burr authored the FDA Modernization Act of 1997. He also helped to create the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, he successfully sponsored amendments to improve defenses against bioterrorism.
As a representative, Burr co-sponsored, with Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) an amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 2003 relaxing restrictions on the exports of specific types of enriched uranium, first enacted in the Schumer Amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The original Schumer amendment placed increased controls on U.S. civilian exports of weapons grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) to encourage foreign users to switch to reactor grade low-enriched uranium (LEU) for isotope production. HEU is attractive to terrorists because it can be used to create a simple nuclear weapon, while LEU cannot be used directly to make nuclear weapons. The amendment allowed exports to five countries for creating medical isotopes.
Burr did not face a serious challenge in any of his re-election campaigns.
In July 2004, Burr won the Republican primary to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat John Edwards, who had retired from the Senate to run for Vice President under presidential nominee John Kerry in the 2004 election, in which they lost to incumbent president George W. Bush. He faced Democratic Party nominee Erskine Bowles and Libertarian Tom Bailey. Burr won the election by five percentage points.
Burr defeated North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D) on November 2, 2010, with 55% of the vote. He is the first Republican since Jesse Helms to be re-elected to the United States Senate from North Carolina. He also broke the "curse" that his seat held, being the first Senator re-elected to the seat since 1968 (when Sam Ervin won his final term).
Burr defeated Democratic nominee Deborah K. Ross in the November 2016 general election by a margin of 51–45. Burr was a supporter of and campaign advisor for the presidential election bid of Donald Trump.
On July 20, 2016, during his re-election campaign, Burr announced that, should he win that year's election, which he eventually did, he would not seek re-election to a fourth term in 2022.
In 2007, Burr ran for the leadership post of Republican Conference chairman but lost to Sen. Lamar Alexander by a vote of 31 to 16. In 2009, he was chosen to serve as Chief Deputy Whip in the 111th Congress. In 2007, Burr was named a deputy whip. In 2011, he announced his intention to seek the post of minority whip, the number two Republican position in the Senate, but he dropped out of that race in 2012.
As Chairman of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Burr will lead that chamber's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.Committee on Finance
Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure
Subcommittee on Health Care
Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight
Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Subcommittee on Children and Families
Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety
Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging
Select Committee on Intelligence (Chairman)
Special Committee on Aging
Congressional Boating Caucus (Co-Chair)
International Conservation Caucus
Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Caucus
Burr has voted to oppose late-term abortion and to support parental notification laws and efforts to restrict federal funding of Planned Parenthood.
Burr voted against the financial reform bill Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank). In the June 26 debate, he stated: "I fear we're headed down a path that will be too overburdensome, too duplicative, it will raise the cost of credit ... The balance that we've got to have is more focus on the products that we didn't regulate ... more so than government playing a bigger role with a stronger hand".
In fall 2008, during that year's financial crisis, Burr described his response to problems in the U.S. financial system: "On Friday night, I called my wife and I said, 'Brooke, I am not coming home this weekend. I will call you on Monday. Tonight, I want you to go to the ATM machine, and I want you to draw out everything it will let you take. And I want you to go tomorrow, and I want you to go Sunday.' I was convinced on Friday night that if you put a plastic card in an ATM machine the last thing you were going to get was cash." This statement attracted attention from the national press when an April 2009 story in the News and Observer made it more widely known. In late April, Burr told WFAE, a public radio station in North Carolina, "Absolutely I'd do it [again]." He said that "The exact situation we were faced with was a freeze bank to bank. And as I stated, my attempt was to make sure my wife had enough cash at home to make it through the next week." Burr also said that "It was not an attempt to run a bank," and "Nor was it a bank that was even considered then or now to be in trouble."
Burr is a signatory of the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge".
In February 2009, he added an amendment to the proposed economic stimulus package that would end the automatic pay increases of Congress. Burr wrote on his Senate blog: "As the law is currently written, Congress has to hold a vote to disapprove an automatic pay raise. As you can guess, these votes don't happen too often."
In 2013, Burr criticized some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate, who were filibustering the passage of the fiscal year 2014 federal budget in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act. In a tweet, he called their strategy "the height of hypocrisy".
Burr opposes raising the federal minimum wage, and believes that decision should be made by the states.
He is opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Burr was one of 21 senators who voted against the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. Supporters of this measure stated that its provisions enjoyed bipartisan backing in Congress and strong local support in the areas affected, and would protect millions of acres of wild land. Opponents said that it was laden with expensive earmarks, that it precluded oil and gas production on large tracts of federal land, and that it would harm rural economies. Burr supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which safeguards natural areas, water resources, cultural heritage, and recreational opportunities. It uses revenues from the depletion of offshore oil and gas.
In 2011, Burr said he was unsure how of how much human activity contributed to climate change, and that he does not think science can prove it. He has supported the lowering of federal taxes on alternative fuels, renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the initiation of a hydropower project on the Yadkin River in Wilkes County, North Carolina.
In 2013, he voted to create a point of order against legislation that would create a federal tax or fee on carbon emissions.
Burr voted in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. In a series of roll call votes attached to debate about the Keystone XL pipeline on January 21, 2015, he voted against Amendments 58 and 87, which were written to "express the sense of Congress regarding climate change." A vote for the amendment was to declare that climate change is real, human-caused, creating problems, and that the US must shift from fossil fuels to sustainable energy.
Burr voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009, and he voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.
Burr unsuccessfully tried to filibuster the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009.
In 2014, Burr sponsored the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment Act along with Senator Orrin Hatch. The bill is intended to provide an alternative health care reform system to the Affordable Care Act, according to Ripon Advance. The bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act and implement provisions related to consumer protections, pre-existing conditions, and "consumer-directed healthcare measures."
Burr opposes the regulation of the tobacco industry by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). During the 108th Congress, Burr proposed the National Uniformity for Food Act, which would have banned states from forcing manufacturers to include labels other than those that are required by the Food and Drug Administration on consumables and health and beauty products. A similar bill passed the House, but it died in the Senate.
Senator Burr opposed a vote to confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and blocked the nomination of Patricia Timmons-Goodson to fill a vacancy on the federal court bench in Eastern North Carolina, which, he proudly notes, is the longest federal court bench vacancy in US history. Burr said that if Hillary Clinton were elected president, he would try to block her from ever filling the Supreme Court vacancy, saying "I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court."
Burr was the sponsor of Senate bill 1873, the Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2005, nicknamed "Bioshield Two", which he says will give the Department of Health and Human Services "additional authority and resources to partner with the private sector to rapidly develop drugs and vaccines." Portions of Senate Bill 1873 were eventually included in Senate Bill 3678 (the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act), which was signed into law in December 2006.
Some provisions of the Patriot Act, including those enabling the bulk collection of metadata for private telephone records by the National Security Agency, were scheduled to expire at the end of May 2015. As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr proposed extending the provisions for two years, but his amendments were defeated. After the provisions expired, the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act which instead allowed the NSA to subpoena the data from telephone companies.
Burr supported President Bush's troop surge in Iraq in January 2007, citing the "need for security and stability".
Burr was a national security advisor to the Donald Trump campaign.
In April 2016, following the FBI–Apple encryption dispute in the same year, a discussion draft of a bill sponsored by Burr and Senator Dianne Feinstein was leaked. The bill would require technology companies to design their encryption so that they can provide law enforcement with user data in an "intelligible format" when required to do so by court order.
Burr is generally opposed to tighter restrictions on gun rights. He voted against the 2013 legislation which would have extended background checks to internet and gun show weapons purchases. He sponsored legislation to stop the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from adding the names of veterans to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) if the department has assigned a financial fiduciary to take care of their finances due to mental incompetence, unless a judge or magistrate deems them to be a danger. Persons added to the NICS system are barred from purchasing or owning a firearm in the United States. Burr voted against Senator Diane Feinstein's No Fly No Buy bill, but said he is open to legislation blocking gun sales to terrorists if due process is observed. Speaking privately on the topic of guns to a group of GOP volunteers in Mooresville, NC, Burr joked that a magazine cover of Hillary Clinton ought to have had a bullseye on it. Burr quickly apologized for the comment.
On December 18, 2010, Burr voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, the only Southern Republican senator to do so. The repeal would go on to end the core aspect of official Department of Defense employment discrimination against openly gay individuals. Burr and John Ensign were the only Senators who voted against cloture but voted in support of the final passage. Senator Susan Collins (R) of Maine who spearheaded the fractional Republican party support for the repeal expressed grateful surprise at Burr's joining her group in the final vote: "I think that was a gutsy vote" said Collins, "he was not someone who I thought to lobby." Burr strongly expressed his opposition to the timing of the vote, reasoning he said that the chaos of double wars warranted delay, but decided it was right to support the bill when the Senate decided to stop waiting.
On same-sex marriage, Burr's personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman; however, he believes that the law should be left to the states. Burr thinks that bathroom access should be regulated by sex listed on birth certificates, but has also sought to distance himself from HB2, the North Carolina bathroom legislation.
Burr voted for re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.
In March 2015, Burr voted for an amendment to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to allow employees to earn paid sick time.
In 2012, Burr co-sponsored a plan to overhaul Medicare; his bill would have raised the eligibility age from 65 to 67 over time and added more private insurance options. The proposal would have begun "a transition to a system dominated by private insurance plans."
On Feb 6, Burr voted to confirm Betsy DeVos as U.S. education secretary; DeVos won the Senate's confirmation, 51-50, with vice president Mike Pence as the deciding vote. Her family donated $43,200 to Burr's re-election campaign against Democrat Deborah Ross.
Burr's car, a 1973 Volkswagen Thing, is "something of a local celebrity" on Capitol Hill. Burr has a known aversion to reporters, once even climbing out of his office window while carrying his dry cleaning to avoid them. Burr is a member of the United Methodist Church.
*Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 1992, write-ins received 4 votes.