Inside an empty House chamber, Representative Louie Gohmert, the brash-talking Texas Republican, camped out with his computer more than nine hours before President Trump was to arrive for his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
He and other conservative lawmakers were staking out aisle seats for the presidential procession, positioning themselves for prime-time, televised handshakes.
CreditTom Brenner for The New York Times
On the opposite side of the aisle, Democrats were preparing to make a statement: women in shades of suffragist white and men with coordinating white ribbons to honor the rising power of female voters. Their guests — transgender soldiers, formerly furloughed federal workers, climate and immigration activists — were chosen to be personal rebuttals to the president’s policies.
After a cancellation and weeks of posturing amid a government shutdown, and with another potential funding lapse looming, it was finally time to determine what, exactly, the state of the union is.
And as has been customary, even in the tradition-shattering Trump era, the denizens of Capitol Hill were making every effort on Tuesday to strive for normalcy ahead of a peak Washington ritual.
Fireplaces throughout the building were extinguished, in part to prevent the scent of smoke from permeating the pomp and circumstance. Senators Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, took a morning spin class together.
And Washington collectively speculated about what the president would say.
“I’d like to hear more of his thoughts about immigration and how we can design an immigration plan that looks like someone designed it on purpose,” said Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana. “I’d like to hear his thoughts about the stalemate that we find ourselves in.”
Administration officials assured reporters that Mr. Trump would call for bipartisanship, comity and unity in a time of divided and polarized government (and would probably not declare a national emergency to secure money for a wall at the southwestern border).
But when Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, pre-emptively scorned the sincerity of the president’s speech and policy promises — “it seems that every year the president wakes up and discovers the desire for unity on the morning of the State of the Union” — Mr. Trump could not resist a presidential retort.
Calls for unity, it appeared, were to be shelved until 9 p.m.
And even though wisps of tradition clung to the hours of preparation for a familiar rendition, the circumstances were less customary. Senators prepared to pass a bipartisan bill Tuesday afternoon that in part served as a rebuke of Mr. Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
And as lawmakers bustled across the Capitol, they fended off questions about a number of politically fraught topics, including the latest nominees to the cabinet, a judicial nominee who was running into fierce Democratic questioning and, most pressing, whether the government would still be open in little over a week.
The current stopgap spending bill runs out at midnight Feb. 15, and lawmakers are trying to hammer out a compromise to prevent a second shutdown, a task complicated by Mr. Trump’s demands for wall funding.
Asked about his conversations with the president, Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, deferred to Mr. Trump’s looming address: “Apparently he’s going to talk to all of us tonight, isn’t he?”
Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.