A sharp disagreement over whether to provide coronavirus liabilit…

A sharp disagreement over whether to provide coronavirus liability protections to businesses, schools and other organizations has quickly emerged as one of the biggest obstacles to getting a deal on COVID-19 relief legislation.
Both sides are digging in, with Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) and Democratic leaders Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse GOP Steering Committee selects four members for new committee positionsPelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusiveHillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against ‘misinformation’ | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidenceMORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLincoln Project targets Senate races in Alaska, Maine, Montana with M ad buyPelosi, Schumer say GOP Senate coronavirus bill is ‘selling out working families’The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Facebook – Barr’s showdown with House DemocratsMORE (N.Y.) calling the issue a looming dealbreaker.
Not only is the disagreement standing in the way of passing the first major coronavirus package since late March, its also pitting key Republican and Democratic constituencies against each other: the business community versus unions and trial lawyers.
Negotiations between the White House and congressional Democrats stalled this week largely because of the standoff over the liability shield in the GOPs coronavirus package unveiled Monday.
White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMcConnell opens door to smaller coronavirus relief dealGOP hunts for ‘Plan B’ as coronavirus talks hit wallOn The Money: Meadows says benefits to expire as negotiators struggle to get deal | Trump pitches short-term pact | Fed keeps rates near zero as economy faces blow from coronavirus MORE told reporters after Wednesdays talks that Pelosi and Schumer dont appear to be in a negotiating mood.
In fact, if anything, I think theyre more entrenched now than they were even a week ago. So Im not optimistic well reach any kind of comprehensive deal, he said. 
A day earlier, McConnell declared he will not bring coronavirus relief legislation to the Senate floor unless it includes liability protections crafted by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lagRepublican senators revolt over coronavirus proposalHow Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19MORE (R-Texas), an influential member of the Judiciary Committee.
There is no chance, zero chance, America can get back to normal without the Cornyn liability protection, and no bill will be put on the Senate floor that does not include it, McConnell said. 
Schumer and Pelosi immediately countered that there would be no deal on the broader package unless McConnell backed down. 
What the leader said today sounded like a person who had no interest in having an agreement, Pelosi told reporters.
The deadlock has prompted McConnell and Senate Republicans to discuss the possibility of moving a smaller relief package that would not include Cornyns liability shield proposal.
Were looking at all the options, McConnell told PBSs NewsHour in an interview Wednesday afternoon when asked about moving a smaller bill.
Republicans initially envisioned securing liability protections for large- and medium-sized businesses, as well as health care providers and other organizations, in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars Democrats want for cash-strapped state and local governments.
But that was a couple of months ago. Since then, coronavirus cases and deaths have spiked, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpGovernors’ approval ratings drop as COVID-19 cases mount Gohmert says he will take hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 treatmentVirginia governor, senators request CDC aid with coronavirus outbreak at immigrant detention facilityMOREs poll numbers have fallen, giving leverage to Democrats in negotiations over the next relief package.
For Democrats to give McConnell a huge concession that would anger two of their biggest campaign donor groups — unions and trial lawyers — so close to the election would be playing with political fire.
We are completely opposed to the bill that Cornyn put out. They said in advance it was going to be limited, restricted, carefully drawn and its none of that. Its overbroad. Its very, very long-term, said Yona Rozen, associate general counsel for the AFL-CIO.
Cornyns bill would limit liability for personal injuries arising from COVID-19 exposure at businesses, schools, colleges, nonprofit organizations. It also would shield health care providers and facilities from coronavirus-related liability claims for five years. It would apply retroactively from Dec. 1, 2019, and extend to Oct. 1, 2024.
One of the chief criticisms of the proposal is that it does not require employers, health care providers and organizations to adhere to any one set of standards for protecting workers, patients and customers.
Its very vague in terms of the standards. There are voluntary standards, state standards, local standards. They make it almost impossible for somebody to bring a claim, Rozen said.
The AFL-CIO and other labor advocates argue the Trump administration has gone in the opposite direction of what is needed to establish coronavirus liability standards by failing to issue workplace standards under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
There are not enforceable standards currently, other than the general duties clause, OSHA has not done what it should have done in terms of issuing temporary emergency standards as we asked, Rozen said.
Trial lawyers, another major interest in the Democratic coalition, are also staunchly opposed to Cornyns bill.
While a number of states, including New York, have adopted laws or implemented executive orders limiting liability during the pandemic, critics argue that Cornyns proposal would go far beyond the legal protections extended at the state level.
We believe any immunity will make the public less safe. But in regards to Sen. Cornyns bill, it is far more extreme than anything that has passed at the state level. It gives corporations license to behave recklessly with impunity in the face of a pandemic, said Peter Knudsen, a spokesperson for the American Association for Justice, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
Like the AFL-CIO, the trial lawyers group says the lack of clear enforceable standards for protecting workers, customers and the general public from the coronavirus must be implemented before considering a liability shield. 
Pelosi and Schumer also must weigh the fact that Democratic lawmakers overwhelmingly view Cornyns liability shield as terrible policymaking.
I think the whole idea is preposterous, said Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats call for McConnell to bring Voting Rights Act to floor in honor of LewisHillicon Valley: Russian hackers return to spotlight with vaccine research attack | Twitter says 130 accounts targeted in this week’s cyberattack | Four fired, dozens suspended in CBP probe into racist, sexist Facebook groupsDemocrats chide Facebook over climate disinformationMORE (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue.
This is a fake [issue] because there is not a business reopening problem from fear of liability. Weve witnessed that over the last months, so the supposed need for it is imaginary. The proposal is so ridiculously excessive that it really doesnt provide an opening point for negotiations, Whitehouse added. 
He went on to say, as other Democrats have, that there have been few lawsuits filed related to potential coronavirus exposure because existing law already provides employers with plenty of protections.
The law already covers this circumstance. Theres a reason theres been essentially no lawsuits filed, because people look at this and say, Wait a minute, unless somebodys done really bad stuff, were not going to win in a lawsuit in this environment.
Whitehouse said no lawsuits related to coronavirus exposure have been filed in Rhode Island.
Democrats have accused McConnell of pushing the provision on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 
The chamber first made a strong call for liability protection in May. In mid-July, Harold Kim, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, said, The solutions that we have recommended to the congressional leadership are akin to timely, targeted, temporary.
After the GOP package was introduced on Monday, the chamber praised the legislation.
The Chamber thanks Leader McConnell for putting forward the Senate Republican proposal and especially for the focus on liability protections for businesses who follow public health guidelines, the organization said in a statement.
Alex Gangitano contributed.