Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a bill that ties $2,000-per-person Covid-19 relief checks to a repeal of Section 230, the provision of a 1996 law that protects social media platforms from liability for the way that they moderate third party content.
In doing so, McConnell has likely added a “poison pill” to the effort to increase the Covid-19 relief payments from the current $600.
Increasing numbers of Republicans have joined with Democrats in support of the $2,000 checks, after President Donald Trump called for them to be increased, putting McConnell on the spot to take some sort of action in the next week.
But by tying the payments to another Trump priority — the repeal of Section 230 — McConnell is likely making the package unsuitable to a number of Democrats in the Senate and the House. Although politicians of both parties have expressed a desire to modify Section 230, it’s a whole other matter to repeal it entirely.
The tech industry has long argued that repealing Section 230 would lead to an avalanche of litigation.
In an op ed in USA Today last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Chris Cox, director at the internet trade association NetChoice, wrote that repealing Section 230 “would also force every website hosting user content to create round-the-clock legal and editorial review teams staffed with hundreds or thousands of people to continually monitor every message, video, photo, and blog. Alternatively, websites would face exorbitant legal damages at every turn. That is not realistic.”
McConnell’s bill also sets up a bipartisan committee to investigate election fraud, as Trump has refused to concede the race and has made unfounded claims that the election was stolen from him. The proposed committee would examine the use of such things as absentee ballots but would not address some of Democrats’ concerns of voter suppression.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said on CNN that what McConnell was doing was saying, “I am going to throw in a few poison pills in here to see if we can discourage people from voting for this.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that McConnell was adding “unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country.” Schumer said McConnell’s bill “will not pass the House and cannot become law – any move like this by Sen. McConnell would a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check.”
The House voted overwhelmingly on Monday to increase the payments to $2,000.
Earlier, McConnell blocked an effort by Schumer to pass the increased payments by unanimous consent.
Trump, meanwhile, linked to a story on McConnell’s action and wrote, “Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 – Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough!” But Trump has not explicitly demanded that a repeal of Section 230 be linked to the increased payments.
Trump targeted Section 230 after Twitter started putting fact-checking labels on his tweets, while he and other Republicans have groused that social media platforms have a bias against conservative viewpoints. But they have largely relied on anecdotal evidence, while Silicon Valley CEOs, in congressional hearings, have defended their content moderation and denied that there is systemic bias. Democrats, meanwhile, want social media giants like Facebook and YouTube to do more to curb misinformation, especially around the election and the coronavirus pandemic.