The White House and Congressional Republicans are at an impasse over COVID-19 relief. While Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell are adamant about a “liability shield,” the White House is less concerned with such a measure. Instead, President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin are more focused on extending the existing unemployment benefits and authorizing direct payments to taxpayers.
McConnell’s disdain for this approach is palpable. On several occasions, he’s described the liability shield as a “red line” issue and promised that the Senate will hear no relief legislation that doesn’t include it.
McConnell’s fixation is on a clause that he helped co-author. The clause would make it extremely difficult for employees to sue businesses over coronavirus exposure. However, worker’s rights groups have derided this legislation, saying it authorizes businesses to treat their employees as disposable.
Liability Shield Could Derail Relief Bill
The unemployment benefits of the CARES Act expire tomorrow, on the first of August. However, Congress looks no closer to drafting any legislation that would replace it.
For some Congressional Republicans, this is a good thing. They would rather see people have the “incentive” to return to work. However, rather than establishing a higher base pay, they want the specter of poverty and homelessness to compel workers to find a job amidst an historic economic downturn.
McConnell’s been clear that he won’t bring any legislation to the Senate floor unless it includes the liability shield. In McConnell’s version of the clause, employees suing their employers must prove the business was “grossly negligent” about COVID.
Many lawyers and worker’s rights activists have noted that this is troubling. In essence, it frees up unscrupulous businesses to take advantage of people who are scrambling to get back to work.
White House Breaks with Congressional Republicans
Now, the Trump Administration is signaling a willingness to negotiate with Congressional Democrats. Together they could craft a stop-gap that will get relief to the American people.
This has incensed many Republicans in Congress who were already prickly over Mnuchin’s dealings with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi and Mnuchin are once again collaborating on the most recent drafts of the relief bill.
While many Americans are stuck at home watching streaming services and waiting for the pandemic to end, the GOP is struggling to meet the moment. A party focused on prioritizing the “bootstraps theory” finds itself highly unpopular in a pandemic. Whether McConnell or the White House blinks first remains to be seen.