“I don’t think at this time, with the coronavirus, that there’s any interest in having any less protection with our workers,” Pelosi said on Tuesday afternoon of McConnell’s argument. “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.”
But McConnell was unmoved and said if Democrats want money for states, it will be on his terms. On Fox News late Tuesday afternoon, he said the issue is a “red line” for the Senate and that it will not pass a bill that doesn’t include his liability language.
“The Senate is not interested in passing a bill that doesn’t have liability protection,” McConnell said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said there hasn’t been much discussion about the idea but that Democrats “do not want to make such action contingent upon any actions that we take on behalf of employees and employers and the public.”
A Democratic aide later clarified that Pelosi read McConnell’s Monday quotes on a leadership call yesterday, but Hoyer had yet to dial in. Pelosi and other top Democrats were in agreement that they don’t have any interest in McConnell’s idea.
McConnell also told Senate Republicans on Tuesday he opposed including a large infrastructure component to the next coronavirus response bill, according to two people familiar with the call. Asked about the exchange afterward, McConnell said the Senate will pass a “modest” infrastructure bill and avoid combining it with a coronavirus response.
“Mitch is looking at it as I do to an extent as the infrastructure — he likes infrastructure. We all do,” President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “A lot of the Republicans would like to keep that as a separate bill. We will see how that works out.”
Some Republicans from coronavirus-wracked states like Louisiana and New York want to provide more money to their states, while others oppose even the general idea of sending states money. After repeatedly panning bailouts of state and local governments and suggesting they might declare bankruptcy instead, McConnell on Monday said he could support adding more state and local money “provided we have the right kind of nonfinancial relief.”
“We probably will do another bill. What I’m saying is it won’t just be about money. It will be about other things that we think are important in the aftermath of this pandemic. And at the top of my list is liability protections for the brave people who have been manning the front lines during this and the brave people who will be opening their businesses fearful that they will be sued,” McConnell said on Monday.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has introduced a bill that would shield front-line health care workers from some lawsuits.
Schumer said he didn’t understand exactly what McConnell was proposing but urged McConnell to “stop putting barriers in the way” of more money for local governments. McConnell and the Trump administration fought the inclusion of $150 billion in state and local aid on last week’s $484 billion coronavirus bill, the fourth bill responding to the crisis.
“Is he saying if an owner tells a worker they have to work next to somebody who might have coronavirus, without a mask or PPE, that that owner wouldn’t be liable? That make no sense,” Schumer said.
Quint Forgey and Caitlin Oprysko contributed to this report.