Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sees the coronavirus liability shields as the most important part of his new stimulus program, he told CNBC on Tuesday. The Senator from Kentucky said that he would not compromise on the bill's protections for businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits. Critics say that this provision will only hurt workers and encourage re-opening public spaces too early.
"We're not negotiating over liability protection," McConnell said bluntly during a Tuesday night appearance on CNBC. McConnell's office wrote the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act — or, HEALS Act — over the last two weeks, with input from the Trump administration. While it includes another stimulus check similar to the previous one, Democrats are put off by many of the other provisions in the bill — particularly the extensive liability shields.
These protections would make it extremely difficult for workers to to take action against an employer who forced them to return to work too soon, or to work in unsafe conditions. It would leave customers at such businesses similarly helpless, and the families of anyone who dies of the coronavirus due to these circumstances.
The thinking behind these liability shields is to encourage re-opening, and to do so quickly — a mindset that contradicts the advice of public health experts around the world. McConnell confirmed his objective by telling CNBC: "there's no chance of the country getting back to normal with [liability shields]."
A poll conducted by CNBC and Change Research found that a majority of voters in six different swing states opposed McConnell's liability shields. In defense, the senator said: "this is not just liability protection for businesses, although they are included like everyone else." The shields are also meant to protect doctors, public schools and universities from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
McConnell also claimed that his bill did leave room for legal action against an organization in extreme circumstances, if they were "grossly negligent or caused intentional harm." Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi issued a public statement condemning these shields, saying they protect "employers who do not protect workers' health and safety, while offering no OSHA protections to ensure workers can trust in safe workplaces.
The U.S. Congress is scheduled to break for a recess on Friday, and the United States Senate is scheduled to leave a week after that. Many pundits are now wondering whether the two sides will reach a compromise in time, or a stimulus check may not pass at all.