McConnell draws 'red line' on coronavirus bill: It won't pass without 'liability protection'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate Democrats say White House isn't budging in coronavirus relief stalemate MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that the next coronavirus bill has to include liability protections for employers or it will not pass the Senate.

"My red line going forward on this bill is we need to provide protection, litigation protection, for those who have been on the front lines. ... We can't pass another bill unless we have liability protection," McConnell said during an interview on Fox News, calling the additional legal protections a "condition" for the bill.

The remarks from McConnell come as lawmakers are jockeying over the next coronavirus relief package, which would be the fifth bill passed by Congress aimed at addressing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

ADVERTISEMENT

Democrats have rolled out their own priorities for the next bill, including more help for state and local governments that are facing massive budget holes, with local governments warning they may have to cut services due to the economic impact of the coronavirus.

Congress previously appropriated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of last month's $2.2 trillion relief bill. But governors are asking for an additional $500 billion.

The most recent $484 billion coronavirus legislation included billions in small-business loans and money for hospitals and testing, but it did not include more help for states and local governments after GOP senators warned that including it would prevent the bill from passing the Senate without all senators being in Washington for a full roll-call vote.

McConnell said on Tuesday that he was open to providing more help for state and local governments but tied the additional funding to states enacting laws that provided more legal protections for businesses.

"You have to carefully craft the liability protection to deal with the money that would be supplied to state and local governments conditioned upon them enacting at the state level the kind of legislation that would provide liability protection for those that are seeking to go forward and get the economy back to work," McConnell said.

ADVERTISEMENT

McConnell said he had been in conversation with businesses across the country and argued that there was a "good deal of fear" that they could be sued, for example, if they reopen and a customer who contracts the coronavirus accuses the business of being at fault.

Democrats have appeared critical of McConnell's proposal and, in particular, his decision to make it a requirement for the additional state and local funding.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Bass on filling Harris's Senate spot: 'I'll keep all my options open' Win by QAnon believer creates new headaches for House GOP MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters on Tuesday that Democrats do not have "any interest in having any less protection for our workers." 

"We don't need any prescription from anybody about mythology or just excuses not to do the job. It's really sad. It's disgraceful because there is such tremendous need," she said. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOcasio-Cortez's 2nd grade teacher tells her 'you've got this' ahead of DNC speech New poll shows Markey with wide lead over Kennedy in Massachusetts Lawmakers push Trump to restore full funding for National Guards responding to pandemic MORE (D-N.Y.) told PBS on Tuesday that he had not seen McConnell's proposal but that "if it's going to help big CEOs, but not the workers, or hurt the workers, that's not going to happen." 

ADVERTISEMENT

Asked about the initial Democratic opposition, McConnell doubled down.

"Let me make it perfectly clear, the Senate is not interested in passing a bill that does not have liability protection," he said.

"The way you make a law is it has to pass the House and the Senate. What I'm saying is we have a red line on liability. It won't pass the Senate without it," he added. 

– Mike Lillis contributed.