Mitch McConnell's Liability Shield Is Major Holdup For COVID-19 Deal

“A bipartisan group of senators is trying to negotiate a compromise involving Republican and Democratic priorities for another coronavirus relief bill, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pointedly refused to go along.  One of the biggest obstacles to passing a bill before the end of the year is McConnell’s monthslong insistence on giving businesses and organizations broad protections from coronavirus-related lawsuits, which is opposed by Democrats. Senators discussed the contentious issue during a closed-door meeting on Monday evening, but reached no resolution. The $908 billion bipartisan framework that a group of eight senators proposed last week would extend federal unemployment insurance programs for four months, along with an extra $300 in weekly benefits. It would provide $160 billion in assistance to state governments that have seen tax revenues drop due to lost economic activity. And it would include a temporary moratorium on personal injury lawsuits related to coronavirus exposure.  Democratic leaders have embraced the compromise, which includes a watered-down version of the ban on coronavirus lawsuits that McConnell said is his top priority in any legislation. McConnell has not embraced it.  In a Senate floor speech on Monday, McConnell talked as though he were the one who had shown a willingness to compromise, and Democrats had not. “Their strategy has been all or nothing,” he said.  McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) have been pushing for a much broader liability shield that would preempt state laws until 2024, requiring complainants to prove in federal court that a business or other institution essentially got them sick on purpose, while also providing an inventory of every place they visited and every person who came to their home in the two weeks before the onset of symptoms ― and that’s before a trial could even start.  Companies would be able to sue people just for making settlement demands, and U.S. attorneys could then prosecute them.  A source familiar with the negotiations said that while Republicans in the working group, such as Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Bill Cassidy (La.), have been willing to compromise, McConnell has not. “He’s not budging at all,” the source said. When McConnell introduced the liability shield concept earlier this year, he said it was necessary to prevent “an epidemic of lawsuits” against schools, health care providers and businesses that threatened the economy.  But of the more than 6,500 coronavirus-related lawsuits tracked by the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth, fewer than 400 are the kind of personal injury complaint McConnell had in mind. Many more are from businesses suing each other or suing the government over coronavirus restrictions. “Far from the pandemic of lawsuits there’s barely been a trickle, and yet the Republican leader continues to prevent Americans from getting the aid they so desperately need and deserve until he gets this piece of partisan ideological legislation,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech on Tuesday. Remington Gregg, counsel for civil justice and consumer rights at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said the Republican liability proposal would even squelch suits like the one brought by poultry plant workers against the meatpacker Tyson Foods. A wrongful death suit alleges that supervisors made employees work while sick and bet money on how many would get COVID-19. “The procedural hurdles would make it nearly impossible to bring a lawsuit and the substantive changes to the law would create an almost insurmountable difficulties in proving their case,” Gregg said. Romney on Monday floated a compromise ― limiting the federal liability shield for companies and other organizations to the year 2020, while giving states time to pass legislation of their own to address the issue in 2021. It’s unclear whether McConnell would go for it, however. “Ultimately it’s going to have to satisfy Sen. McConnell because it’s been one of his leading priorities since the beginning of this,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters on Monday.   A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus Which airlines are blocking out middle seats for holiday travel? How does the coronavirus spread differently than the flu? Can you close your COVID “bubble” without losing friends forever? Is it safe to see grandparents over the holidays?  How can you help a friend with anxiety when you’re also struggling? Everyone deserves accurate information about COVID-19. Support journalism without a paywall — and keep it free for everyone — by becoming a HuffPost member today.

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