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McConnell: Dropping liability protections from coronavirus deal 'not going to happen'

McConnell: Dropping liability protections from coronavirus deal 'not going to happen'
© Bonnie Cash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellImmigration, executive action top Biden preview of first 100 days Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight McConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report MORE (R-Ky.) said Friday that liability protections will be in any coronavirus relief deal amid mixed signals from the White House, which has increasingly focused on a smaller or short-term deal. 

Asked if the White House was trying to drop liability protections from the talks, McConnell told WHAS, a Kentucky radio station, that both he and President Trump support the proposal.

"Ultimately if we get a deal I'll be the one to put it on the floor in the Senate. I assure you it will have liability protection in it," McConnell said.

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"There was some rumor that they were prepared to negotiate it away. That's not going to happen," he added.

McConnell's comments come as White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump administration revives talk of action on birthright citizenship MORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience On The Money: Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | JPMorgan: Economy will shrink in first quarter due to COVID-19 spike Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed MORE have both signaled that they remain far from a deal with congressional Democrats on the next coronavirus relief package, including at a stalemate on help for state and local governments, how to address unemployment insurance and liability protections. 

Instead, they've tried to push Democrats toward accepting a smaller, short-term bill that focuses on unemployment benefits and preventing evictions. 

"I think probably trying to resolve the enhanced unemployment issue," Meadows told reporters late Thursday afternoon when asked about the goal for a Thursday night meeting with Democrats. "And so we want to go ahead and address ... the eviction provisions that hopefully will keep people from being evicted from the homes, at least through the end of the year, on both of those things." 

When a reporter noted that McConnell has repeatedly said he will not move a bill that does not include liability protection, Meadows added that "certainly Secretary Mnuchin and I see that as being part of a broader package. ... I'm supportive of trying to address [unemployment] and then coming back to address the broader issues." 

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Trump also signaled at the White House that his focus was on evictions and unemployment, adding that "the rest of it, we’re so far apart we don’t care."

If the White House agreed to drop liability protections from the coronavirus negotiations, that would put it at odds with McConnell, who has warned for months that he views it as his red line for the fifth bill.

The GOP package introduced earlier this week includes a five-year shield from coronavirus related lawsuits for entities — including schools, businesses, hospitals and government agencies — in the case of gross negligence or intentional misconduct. 

The White House appeared to distance itself from the liability protections on Friday.

Asked during a press briefing if they were willing to "pass" on including it, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters, "That's a question for Mitch McConnell. He said that that's going to be a part of any bill. ... That's his priority. ... This president is very keenly focused on unemployment insurance."

But Meadows told Bloomberg on Friday that McConnell had indicated to him that liability protections had to be a part of any deal and "we support him in that decision."