John Boehner Invites the Pope to Speak to Congress

Because when nearly everyone hates Congress, why not bring in a man nearly everyone loves?

Pope Francis smiles to pilgrims in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, during the end of his weekly general audience on November 13, 2013. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
March 13, 2014, 10:30 a.m.

House Speak­er John Boehner has sent a form­al in­vit­a­tion to Pope Fran­cis to speak at a joint ses­sion of Con­gress on be­half of con­gres­sion­al lead­er­ship from both parties and cham­bers, his of­fice an­nounced Thursday.

“Pope Fran­cis has in­spired mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans with his pas­tor­al man­ner and ser­vant lead­er­ship, chal­len­ging all people to lead lives of mercy, for­give­ness, solid­ar­ity, and humble ser­vice,” the speak­er said in a state­ment. Amer­ic­ans, Boehner said, “have em­braced Pope Fran­cis’ re­mind­er that we can­not meet our re­spons­ib­il­ity to the poor with a wel­fare men­tal­ity based on busi­ness cal­cu­la­tions. We can meet it only with per­son­al char­ity on the one hand and sound, in­clus­ive policies on the oth­er.”

Boehner, who is Cath­ol­ic, isn’t the first U.S. politi­cian to try and bring the pope in­to Amer­ic­an polit­ics. In a ma­jor eco­nom­ic speech last Decem­ber, Pres­id­ent Obama dir­ectly quoted Fran­cis, ask­ing, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an eld­erly home­less per­son dies of ex­pos­ure, but it is news when the stock mar­ket loses 2 points?”

Boehner and Obama have reas­on to evoke the pope. Fran­cis, who has now been pope for one year, is wildly pop­u­lar stateside. In a Decem­ber Wash­ing­ton Post poll, 69 per­cent of all re­spond­ents had a fa­vor­able view of the pope, in­clud­ing 92 per­cent of Cath­ol­ics. A more re­cent NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al poll found that 55 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans either have a some­what pos­it­ive (22 per­cent) or very pos­it­ive (33 per­cent) view of the pope.

Com­pare that out­look to how Amer­ic­ans view Con­gress and the pres­id­ent. In the same NBC/WSJ poll, only 34 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans said their mem­ber of Con­gress de­served an­oth­er term, and 54 per­cent said they’d vote to re­place every single mem­ber. Obama, for his part, hit a new low in that poll, with a 41 per­cent ap­prov­al rat­ing.

A vis­it from Pope Fran­cis isn’t go­ing to change those num­bers. But when a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans are look­ing for com­prom­ise, the pope sure seems like the only per­son who can ac­tu­ally bring Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats to­geth­er — even if it’s just for a speech.

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