The Senate will reopen on Monday as the coronavirus crisis rages and the House of Representatives stays shut, an approach that leaves Congress as divided as the nation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to convene 100 senators at the Capitol during a pandemic gives his fellow Republican Donald Trump the imagery he wants of America getting back to work, despite health worries and a lack of testing.
Yet the Washington region remains under stay-at-home orders as a virus hot spot. Gathering senators for the first time since March puts at risk not only politicians but the cooks, cleaners, police officers and other workers who keep the lights on at the Capitol complex.
“We will continue to stand together for the American people — even as we stand six feet apart,” Mr McConnell said ahead of the opening.
President Trump himself offered Congress access to the instant virus test system used to screen visitors to the White House.
But in an extraordinary rebuff, Mr McConnell and Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Saturday they would “respectfully decline” the offer and instead direct resources to the front lines “where they can do the most good”.
No reason to turn it down, except politics. We have plenty of testing. Maybe you need a new Doctor over there. Crazy Nancy will use it as an excuse not to show up to work! https://t.co/NucH4dbKBL
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2020
For Senate Republicans, returning to session is an attempt to set the terms of debate as Democrats push for another costly coronavirus relief bill.
Frustrated after Ms Pelosi boosted Democratic priorities in earlier aid packages – an unprecedented $3 trillion (£2.4 trillion) in emergency spending – they are resisting more.
Republicans are counting on the country’s reopening and an economic rebound as their best hope to limit a new round of big spending on virus aid.
As the Senate gavels in and the 430-member House stays away on the Capitol physician’s advice, the Congress provides a snapshot of divided America struggling to confront the Covid-19 crisis. Some states are reopening, others are staying closed and questions abound.
Senators face few new rules for operating in the pandemic beyond the recommendations that they wear masks — blue face coverings will be available for free — keep their distance and leave most staff at home.
Hand sanitiser is back in stock but public access will be limited, including at public hearings. The Capitol itself remains closed to visitors and tours.