WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has one, big, top priority for the next coronavirus rescue package: stopping sick people from suing their bosses.
But President Trump might throw Mitch’s cherished proposal out the window.
Trump is willing to cut a deal with Democrats without any so-called “liability shield” in the next pandemic response bill, The Washington Post reported Friday, citing two unnamed people with knowledge of internal White House planning.
Ditching Mitch’s top goal would be a slap in the face to the wily Senate majority leader, who protected Trump during his impeachment trial last winter. McConnell has declared his radical plan to shield companies from most legal challenges over COVID-19 to be his “red line.” He says companies need special protections to avoid getting hammered under a hailstorm of lawsuits by workers claiming they were put in risky situations.
“We’re not negotiating over liability protection,” McConnell insisted Tuesday.
But Trump’s waffling is just the latest sign of chaos among top-level Republicans over what to do next about the pandemic. And it’s a new point of friction between Trump and GOP members of Congress as Trump’s approval ratings for handling the pandemic slip in the polls.
Some companies have already been sued over allegations like gross negligence or wrongful death, including Walmart, Safeway and Tyson Foods. But legal experts say they suspect far more litigation might still be looming on the horizon.
GOP senators made the “liability shield” a centerpiece of the plan they unveiled Monday, in a proposal that would make it all but impossible for employees to sue companies that recklessly expose them to the novel coronavirus.
But Republican senators expressed concern and confusion over their own draft plan. Then they skipped town for a long weekend, at a moment when existing federal crisis programs — including $600-weekly unemployment insurance payments and a moratorium on evictions — have just expired, with no plan for a near-term fix.
McConnell has cards left to play. He still controls the Senate floor, and he could block a vote on the bill.
But he’d face pressure from both Democrats and, possibly, the White House, if he becomes the lone holdout blocking an agreement between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over ways to extend unemployment insurance payments and keep people who’ve lost their jobs during the pandemic from being kicked out of their homes.
Now, the White House signaling it wants to reach a deal as soon as possible, perhaps out of concern over what might happen to Trump in the 2020 election if they don’t roll out a new plan soon.
If McConnell’s red line gets smudged, the White House suggested on Friday, that would be McConnell’s problem.
“That’s a question for Mitch McConnell,” spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said when asked about the liability shield during a briefing Friday morning. “That’s his priority.”
Cover: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listens to questions during a news conference following a GOP policy meeting on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)