Congress confronts dual crises of protests, virus outbreak

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FILE - In this May 3, 2020, file photo, light shines from inside the U.S. Capitol dome at dusk on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON – Congress convened Monday with protests outside its door and across the nation, the Capitol already struck by the COVID-19 outbreak now confronting a deepening crisis over the treatment of black people in the United States.

The civil unrest over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police combined with the coronavirus pandemic that's disproportionately striking African Americans sparked an urgent plea for understanding from some leaders as the world watches a nation in turmoil.

Notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell read into the Senate record the names of black people who have died in recent confrontations. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor.

“To me,” McConnell, R-Ky., said in a speech in the Senate chamber, and to “millions of outraged Americans, these disturbing events do not look like three isolated incidents. They look more like the latest chapter in our national struggle to make equal just and equal protection under the law a fact of life for all Americans."

As protesters gathered outside the Capitol, still partly locked down due to the coronavirus, the dual crises tested Washington. Some lawmakers urged comity and federal aid to prevent the country from slipping into further conflict. Others sided with President Donald Trump's threat to use military force if necessary to end the protests.

House and Senate lawmakers swiftly began drafting legislation to address police violence and confront the inequities facing black Americans.

“This has to be pivotal. It has to be transformative. And it has to happen,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democratic colleagues, according to people unauthorized to discuss the private caucus call and granted anonymity.

The Congressional Black Caucus announced a virtual town hall Friday with civil rights leaders, and House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said the panel is planning a hearing next week on policing, officials said.