The Congressional Wish List for the Pope’s Speech
Every lawmaker on Capitol Hill has a cause that could use a boost from a powerful person’s endorsement — and next week there won’t be a more influential seal of approval than one from Pope Francis.
Since taking on the papacy in March 2013, the leader of the world’s largest church has shown a willingness to wade into some of the thorniest political debates around the globe, from economic equality to climate change to immigration.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike want to hear what he has to say, and his scheduled Sept. 24 address to a joint session of Congress will afford him a soapbox from which to deliver a message to, basically, the world.
“Of all people, he’s especially hard to predict,” said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow at the Catholic Association. “But I do think he really wants people to think of the church as what he calls ‘a field hospital in a broken world.’ … He thinks of himself as the head of that field hospital and any discussions of policy issues for Americans will sort of be filtered through that lens.”
Members of Congress are well aware Francis won’t be using his platform to advocate for, say, a long-term highway bill or reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
But plenty of lawmakers have various causes close to their hearts which they believe fall generally into the overarching theme McGuire described.
CQ Roll Call surveyed a diverse group of House lawmakers from leadership and the rank and file on both sides of the aisle. Here’s what’s on their wish list from the Pope’s visit.
Speaker John A.
Boehner hasn’t said outright what he wants to hear from the Pope, though he’s alluded previously to Francis’ readiness “to take on the status quo … and say what he really thinks.” For Boehner, who is Catholic, it might be honor enough to have a private audience with the spiritual leader to whom he extended the official invitation — the two men are scheduled for a one-on-one meeting before the Pope’s address. “The Pope’s visit is a historic meeting for our country and the Speaker is thrilled he is coming,” Boehner spokeswoman Emily Schillinger told CQ Roll Call.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: The highest ranking House Democrat is, like Boehner, a proud Catholic. Unlike Boehner, however, Pelosi wants to hear the Pope talk more about the need to confront global warming and climate change. “The beautiful work of nature is God’s creation and we have responsibilities to be good stewards of his creation,” Pelosi told reporters recently. “The Pope’s commitment to focusing on the climate crisis is, I think, an act of worship, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to say about that.”
Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.: House GOP leaders are trying to find a way to both fund the government and defund Planned Parenthood. Scalise said he hoped the Pope’s address would touch on an anti-abortion message. “As a lifelong Catholic, I am eager to hear Pope Francis’s message of peace. I would like him to encourage a stronger culture of life as he becomes the first Pope to address a joint meeting of Congress,” he said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call.
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn.: Black is getting a vote on the House floor Friday on legislation she introduced to zero out funding for Planned Parenthood, and she hopes the Pope will make a direct policy recommendation on the subject. Her spokesman told CQ Roll Call: “[She] is hopeful that His Holiness will address our nation’s moral obligation to protect the most innocent and vulnerable among us by defunding Planned Parenthood and restoring a culture of life. … When the Pope speaks, people listen and we believe there is a real opportunity here for hearts and minds to be reached with the truth about the sanctity of life.”
Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores, R-Texas: According to a spokeswoman, Flores “will be interested to hear Pope Francis’ comments on protecting life, reaffirming Biblical values, and the need for strong economic opportunities to lift up hardworking families.”
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif.: In a statement to CQ Roll Call, she said the CHC “look[s] forward to hearing Pope Francis speak on a number of issues important to Latinos and working families — from juvenile justice to comprehensive immigration reform to the need to protect our environment. His Holiness and the Hispanic Caucus share a commitment to fighting for justice and civil rights and we believe his message of compassion is one that is critically needed in Congress right now.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.: A senior appropriator who is passionate about advancing policies to combat hunger and poverty, DeLauro and 93 fellow House Democrats sent the Pope a letter on August 12. In it, they wrote: “Your powerful example of solidarity with the poor and the marginalized will undoubtedly help inform our current debates around major U.S. policy affecting all Americans. Your message of hope could not come at a more crucial time, in particular to those in our nation that are struggling on a minimum wage salary, or relying on public assistance to put food on the table.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.: He could, at any point, drop a privileged resolution to oust Boehner from his speakership, but in the meantime the conservative sophomore lawmaker wants to hear Pope Francis talk about “the importance of protecting the sanctity of life, as well as the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa,” his spokeswoman said.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Keith Ellison, D-Minn.: Also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of a handful of Muslim lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Ellison sent the following statement to CQ Roll Call: “Pope Francis shares many positions with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, such as addressing the widening gap between the rich and poor, social justice, and climate change, which the Pope views as the central moral issue of our time. I look forward to hearing the Pope remind us of our common bonds, as we both view justice and equality as central tenants to human rights. It will also be interesting to hear how Republicans react to the Pope’s call for action on economic, social, and climate justice. I hope they tune in and take His Holiness’ words to heart.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.: A leader in the charge on Capitol Hill against the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, Diaz-Balart hopes the Pope, who is also set to visit the communist nation on this trip, will discuss “human rights, particularly in Cuba and Venezuela, where oppression continues to escalate,” according to a spokeswoman.
Reps. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.: Conyers and Lofgren, the ranking members of the Judiciary Committee and Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, respectively, recently released a statement calling for the U.S. to adopt a strong policy in regard to accepting Syrian refugees. They would surely like to hear the pontiff address the issue. They said in their Sept. 10 statement: “As Pope Francis has indicated, now is the time for Churches and Parishes across the country to step forward to help refugees in need.”
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill.: During a recent floor speech in which he, at one point, called Francis the “anti-Trump,” the Catholic lawmaker talked about his conflicted relationship with the church. “For this Catholic American — for this man who has sometimes struggled with the Church and is not always welcomed because of my support for women’s health, a woman’s right to a legal abortion, LGBT rights — I am so looking forward to the Pope’s visit because I feel my nation needs him right now.”