One constant during the latest attempts to get a new coronavirus stimulus package through Congress has been Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's insistence that a "liability shield" be included in the law. This would give businesses and employers protection from lawsuits by customers and employees to file lawsuits related to the coronavirus. While McConnell said he would refuse to take up any legislation that does not include this, the White House is reportedly interested in letting this slide to strike a deal with Democrats, who have argued against it.
President Donald Trump's administration does want the liability protections but are open to agreeing to a new stimulus package that does not include it, for now, two sources close to the White House told the Washington Post on Friday. One source said the measure is "considered important but not absolutely essential." White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Friday the liability protection is a "priority" for McConnell, but Trump is "very keenly focused on unemployment insurance."
McConnell included liability protections in the proposed HEALS (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools) Act. While on CNBC Tuesday, McConnell said Republicans are "not negotiating over liability protection," adding that there is "no chance of the county getting back to normal without it."
However, Congressional Democrats have opposed it, believing that employers would be less likely to follow coronavirus guidelines and protections if they knew workers and customers could not hold them accountable. According to McConnell, the protections would cover private businesses, schools, universities, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, and other businesses. Republicans accused Democrats of not supporting it because they are loyal to trial lawyers.
"What they're saying to essential workers, 'you have to go to work because you're essential. We've placed no responsibility on your employer to make that workplace safe," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CBS News' Face The Nation on Sunday. The California Democrat called it "unfair," adding, "If you get sick, you have no recourse because we've given the employer protection. And if you don't go to work because you're afraid of being sick and you have that job opportunity, you don't get unemployment insurance."
With the pause on this topic still in place, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has started talking about a smaller stimulus package focusing on an eviction moratorium and extending the federal unemployment benefit at a lower level than before. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows also told reporters Thursday the liability protection is a "red line for the leader [McConnell] in my discussions with him." Meadows reiterated the White House's support for the liability protections but said the White House could support an unemployment benefits extension without the liability shield.
Democrats and Republicans do at least agree on including another stimulus check in the next stimulus package. Democrats included another $1,200 payment in the House's HEROES Act, while McConnell included one in the HEALS Act. While the HEALS Act's program mostly replicates the CARES Act's, it does make all dependents, no matter their age, eligible for $500.