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Hearings, Protests and Rallies: Washington Grinds On Through the Pandemic

Twenty-two days before the election, it rained in Washington. Protesters showed up in front of the Supreme Court and the Capitol in hazmat suits that doubled as protection against the elements. Anti-abortion activists knelt in prayer.

The high-profile Supreme Court nomination hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett that began on Monday was the latest Washington ritual to be twisted by the coronavirus pandemic. The hearing room was set up for social distancing, with some senators appearing remotely. On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Trump ventured out of the White House to a full-scale campaign rally for the first time since he learned he had Covid-19 not even two weeks ago.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced that the hearing room was “C.D.C. compliant” — though Democrats strenuously disagreed. Attendance was strictly limited, leaving protesters who had made waves in past Supreme Court hearings outside.

As senators and Judge Barrett gave opening statements in the hearing, anti-abortion activists and supporters of Judge Barrett prayed outside near the marble steps of the Supreme Court, while protesters in costumes from “The Handmaid’s Tale” opposed them. The crowds grew tense and cramped, occasionally colliding — a strange sight in an era of social distancing.

Democrats focused their attacks on Judge Barrett on fears that she might vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, while Republicans sought to portray Democrats as attacking her Catholic faith, even though no Democrat mentioned it on Monday.

Later in the day, Mr. Trump left Washington for his first full-scale campaign rally since testing positive for the coronavirus. Although he was hospitalized and received experimental treatments, the president told Americans last week, “Don’t be afraid of Covid.”

“I feel so powerful,” the president said at the rally, though his voice sounded scratchy. “I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women. Just give you a big fat kiss.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who attended the rally, has lifted all restrictions put in place to curb the pandemic in Florida — a crucial swing state in next month’s election.

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