White House on whether liability protection is needed in COVID-19 deal: Ask McConnell

The majority leader wants to shield businesses from coronavirus lawsuits

The White House on Friday responded to reports that President Trump is willing to ditch Sen. Mitch McConnell's demand for new lawsuit protections for businesses in order to secure a deal with Democrats on a coronavirus relief package.

Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany Friday didn't explicitly confirm a Washington Post report that Trump would be willing to sign COVID-19 legislation without the liability shield McConnell wants to protect businesses and hospitals from coronavirus lawsuits. When asked if the legislation can pass without the measure, McEnany said: "That's a question for Mitch McConnell."

"He said that that's going to be a part of any bill," McEnany told reporters at a White House briefing. "But that's Mitch McConnell's -- that's his priority. This president is very keenly focused on unemployment insurance."

McEnany said Trump has two major priorities: passing an extension of federal unemployment insurance that expires today and eviction protections for Americans.

SENATE GOP SEEKS COVID-19 LIABILITY PROTECTIONS FOR SCHOOLS, BUSINESSES

McConnell has made clear that liability protection is a must-have in any new legislation, but Democrats are not on board and want stronger protections for workers.

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The Post reported Friday that while the White House supports the liability shield, Trump would be willing to sign off on a deal that lacks the legal protections -- signaling a division with McConnell.

McConnell, R-Ky., already broke with the White House when he said he opposed the Trump administration's $1.75 billion request to fund a new FBI headquarters in the COVID-19 package.

McEnany said Friday the FBI funding was "not a red line" for the White House and suggested the Trump administration was willing to also budge on its request for $377 million in a West Wing renovation.

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"Make no mistake ... a $377 million proposal will not stand in the way of ensuring that the American people get their checks [and] ... that Americans do not get evicted. That is our No. 1 and No. 2 goals," she said.

The federal unemployment extension of an additional $600 a week runs out Friday. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin started negotiating this week with Democrats on a potential deal, but they haven't been able to reach consensus with both sides casting blame.

"The Democrats believe that they have all the cards on their side," Meadows said in brief remarks at the beginning of the White House news conference. "And they're willing to play those cards at the expense of those that are hurting."

The White House blasted Democrats for rejecting a one-week extension of the $600 per week unemployment provisions to give Americans relief as they try to hammer out a deal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday a short-term bill would be appropriate if a deal were within grasp, but that's not the case.

Pelosi, wanting a large aid package, said the White House doesn't "understand the gravity of the situation."