Pelosi, Schumer Reject Liability Limit for Companies That Reopen

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(Bloomberg) -- The top two Democrats in Congress rejected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call for protection against liability lawsuits for employers who reopen during the coronavirus crisis, as both parties set the stage for a partisan clash over the next aid package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Tuesday that Democrats in her chamber want employees who return to work to have more safety protections, not fewer. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he doesn’t want to see employers protected from lawsuits by workers who might be pushed to return to unsafe conditions during the pandemic.

”If an employer makes an employee do something that is untenable, shouldn’t an employee have some rights here?” Schumer said.

McConnell said Monday that his “red line” in negotiations for the next bill will be liability protections for companies that he said need protection from “an avalanche” of lawsuits from plaintiffs’ lawyers as they try to return to normal operations. The dispute highlights how the next phase of economic stimulus -- possibly the last before the 2020 elections -- risks becoming a stalemate.

He reiterated the demand Tuesday on Fox News after both Pelosi and Schumer spoke, stating that “we can’t pass another bill unless we have liability protection,” and pointing out that both chambers have to pass a bill to get it to Trump.

”The Senate is not interested in passing a bill that does not have liability protection,” McConnell said. “That’s an integral part in getting life back to normal.”

McConnell this week has indicated he would be willing to back some aid to state and local governments after blocking Democratic demands for such funds in the $484 billion package that passed Congress last week.

Such funding is likely to be the backbone of the next measure. The Senate will convene in Washington on May 4 to prepare for further action to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. In the House, plans to return next week have been delayed because of concerns about infection expressed by the House physician.

$500 Billion

Pelosi told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that House Democrats are crafting their own measure to be considered after the chamber returns to work. She said she anticipates states will receive $500 billion -- an amount requested by the National Governors Association -- and that municipal and local governments will get hundreds of billions as well.

Such high allotments are expected to run into GOP opposition, as are her plans to give states more Medicaid money and to help fund voting by mail in the fall elections. Republicans see voting by mail as more advantageous to Democrats.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Schumer and other top Democrats on Tuesday laid out immigration demands expected to face push-back from the Trump administration and some Republicans in Congress.

Democrats are seeking an extension of work authorizations for certain immigrants in jobs deemed “essential” to addressing the coronavirus outbreak. That includes 200,000 young undocumented immigrants who were protected from deportation by President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order, and another 130,000 immigrants in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status.

“Every day these DACA and TPS recipients put themselves in danger,” Schumer said. “More than ever they need our support.”

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