US Senate returns under new virus guidance
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by Michael Mathes
The US Senate convened for its first regular session in five weeks Monday with new coronavirus guidelines in place, amid anxiety about a pandemic that has killed 68,000 Americans and left tens of millions jobless.
Lawmakers, who are encouraged but not required to wear face masks, are expected to address disputes over how to confront the outbreak and mitigate the devastating economic impacts.
The Senate — with 49 of its 100 members age 65 or older and therefore considered at higher risk — gavelled in for its first full session since March 25.
“Now the time has come for us to continue conducting our nation’s business in ways that are only possible with senators here in the capital,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
“The Senate’s going to be as smart and safe as we possibly can, and we are going to show up for work like the essential workers that we are.”
The few senators in the chamber were not wearing face coverings, but Republican McConnell did don a mask as he exited the chamber.
His Democratic counterpart, Senator Chuck Schumer, said members should prepare for “one of the strangest sessions of the US Senate in modern history” — one where lawmakers do not shake hands or huddle with colleagues.
The larger, 435-member House of Representatives opted not to return this week.
Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy said he wants a “hybrid” resumption of House work, including committee hearings, as Washington and the nation debate how and when to open up.
Democratic leaders who control that chamber delayed holding full sessions, citing ongoing health safety concerns and a warning by the congressional physician that the US capital had yet to sufficiently flatten the curve of new coronavirus cases.
Those who do return to Capitol Hill are advised by that doctor, Brian Monahan, to practice social distancing, wear masks, limit the number of in-office staff, screen visitors, use hand sanitizer, and avoid shaking hands. (AFP)