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Capitol Report

McConnell signals interest in protecting employers from coronavirus litigation

Senate Republican leader wants to limit liability for business; Pelosi sidesteps issue

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell arrives at the U.S. Capitol earlier this year.

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How much responsibility owners will have for keeping their workers and customers safe when businesses begin opening back up again could be another political hurdle for the next coronavirus relief bill.

The issue is certainly on the radar of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.), the majority leader in the Senate.

Asked on a radio talk show Wednesday if he was worried about coronavirus litigation from workers infected on the job, McConnell said, “I’m afraid that’s what we’re anticipating. And if I thought there was a way to stop that practically with a Pelosi-led House, believe me, I’d be clamoring for it.”

McConnell’s concern tracks with the White House’s Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, who told reporters Friday.

“‘If they’re practicing the rules and regs and guides that they should be, and regrettably someone — a customer or an employee — regrettably, gets the infection or is infected by the virus, I don’t think there should be a lawsuit,” Kudlow said.

See also:Trump adviser Kudlow talks up limiting coronavirus liability for businesses: ‘I don’t think there should be a lawsuit’

McConnell endorsed the idea of having federal law pre-empt other law on the issue and allowing resulting cases to be consolidated in a single federal district court.

“I think that would be a good idea,” he said. But he warned it would be hard to get House Democrats to agree.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, Calif.) sidestepped the question Friday at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol.

Asked Friday about whether she saw employer liability as an area of negotiation for the next coronavirus bill, Pelosi talked instead about ideas Democrats have pushed already pushed, like expanded leave policies, easier access to health insurance for laid-off workers and more for funding jobless benefits.

U.S. equity benchmarks closed higher Friday but ended down for the week. The S&P 500 index SPX, +1.47% was down 37.82 points or 1.3% this week to 2836.74.

Jonathan Nicholson is a Washington, D.C., journalist who has covered economic and budget policy for more than 20 years.