Pope Francis' call for lawmakers to follow the Golden Rule on immigration and other matters has its limits, according to one conservative senator.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, the most ardent foe of illegal immigration in the Senate, talked warmly in general about the pope's speech, although he said at several points it approached the line of what is appropriate for a religious leader. On the calls to deal humanely with refugees and immigrants seeking opportunity, the Alabama Republican stressed the limits to such a policy.
"I think we have a duty to help those in crisis. So then how you do that I think is up for experts, the military, State Department, whoever, and we’ve got to recognize limits on our abilities," he said. "I don’t think the Golden Rule can be used to justify violating our nation’s immigration laws. I don’t know that he meant that. I don’t think that’s true."
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., who may be the polar opposite of Sessions on immigration, had a predictably different view of the Golden Rule section of the speech.
“If Congress had a daily reminder of the Golden Rule, this would be a better country," he said in a statement after the speech.
“I try to push back on Donald Trump and others who attack Latinos and immigrants or women or Muslims or the poor – sometimes on the floor of the House," Gutierrez continued. "But I cannot speak as simply and as powerfully as the Pope can. Today, someone stood up for the people in my community and the message will definitely sink in. I think every member of Congress will have to think twice before calling all immigrants drug mules or denying climate change or cutting help for working families or labeling children seeking asylum as criminals."
Sessions said he agreed with the pope that one shouldn't worship wealth and should be generous, but he said the West has been better stewards of the Earth than elsewhere.
"I think the western world ... has been pretty darn smart in improving the environment the last 30 years and continues to do so," Sessions said.
And he's not sold on proposals to deal with global warming, despite the pope referring to his encyclical on the subject.
"To the extent there is global warming, we have to ask the question, 'Is it more kind, is it smarter to drive up cost of energy for poor people when you achieve virtually no global warming benefit?' We’re not seeing the damages that were predicted with global warming, climate change," he said, before citing a relatively benign hurricane season.
"Keep our fingers crossed, we may go another season without a major storm," he said.
He issued a broader warning to religious leaders getting too involved in politics.
"You get close to the political flame, you get burned. ... I don’t think the pope went too far, but he was pushing the line."
Jeff Sessions Unswayed by Pope Francis on Immigration, Climate, Economy Divergent Senate Reactions to Pope's Call for Environmental Action See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.