Pope Francis made history on Thursday when he delivered the first papal address to a joint session of Congress. In it he urged the United States to embrace immigrants, champion religious freedom, work to fight man-made climate change, overcome income inequality and protect the vulnerable and the institution of the family.
Reactions to the address were mixed; at times his words drew applause from both sides of the aisle, while other comments elicited decidedly partisan responses. The partisan reaction was not as forceful as it would be during a typical State of the Union address, but it was clear from which party led the applause or stood first for ovations which issues raised by the pope were favored by liberals or conservatives.
The opening of his address was well received by all -- when the pontiff said he was grateful to have a chance to address the American people “in the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Lawmakers throughout Congress clapped and cheered, and in an unusual display, the four Supreme Court justices in attendance applauded as well. (Some observers did notice that it was unusual Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg and Sotomayor were the only Supreme Court members at the speech. The other five, including the most conservative justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas, skipped the speech altogether.)
This is not really newsworthy, but I want to show my AP class: SCOTUS members at Congress today http://t.co/Ocepxkj3Eq
— Marty Cannon (@Cannon_Gov) September 24, 2015
But the pope wasted no time in addressing some of the most polarizing issues of the day, starting with immigration. In a bold move, Francis called on the embrace of immigrants, saying, “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected.”
Cameras caught Sen. Marco Rubio, a Catholic Republican presidential candidate from Florida who is the son of Cuban immigrants, wiping away a tear from his eye upon hearing the “son of immigrants” line.
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) September 24, 2015
But some noted that when Pope Francis invoked the “golden rule” in regards to the Syrian refugee crisis, most conservative lawmakers remained silent, choosing not to applaud while Democrats were vehement in their support.
— Robert V. Taylor (@robertvtaylor) September 24, 2015
Similarly, his comments on climate change -- in which he explicitly mentioned its “human roots” -- received a muted response from conservatives, as did his call to abolish the death penalty.
The pope did not explicitly mention abortion or gay marriage, but he alluded to the issues when he called for the need to protect life at all stages and said that the institution of family is “threatened, perhaps as never before,” obliquely referring to gay marriage.
Still, some conservatives were quick to point out his decidedly conservative views on those issues -- but were frustrated that he would not discuss them as explicitly.
— U.S. Rep. Billy Long (@USRepLong) September 24, 2015
Pope mentions death penalty, environment, immigration specifically. Never explicitly talks about abortion. WHY? I don't understand.
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) September 24, 2015
After the speech, a number of politicians issued statements in support of the pope’s words.
Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic and the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said the pope’s address was extraordinary and that it was a “day of great joy. May the Holy Father’s message of hope, peace and dialogue echo through the halls of the Capitol and across the country for a long time to come.”
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) September 24, 2015
Jeb Bush, another Catholic Republican presidential candidate from Florida, issued a diplomatic statement after the pope’s speech.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) September 24, 2015
House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic who invited the pope to address Congress, called the pope’s visit “a blessing for all of us.” Boehner, known for emotional reactions, got emotional during the beginning of the pope’s address, wiping tears from his eyes. He remained stoic, however, when the pope addressed issues that were controversial among conservatives.
— Speaker John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) September 24, 2015
And politicians from boths sides of the aisle were quick to praise the pope for supporting the messages that echoed their own ideals.
A beacon of righteousness and dignity, @Pontifex has been a steadfast voice for the virtue of life, marriage, and religious liberty.
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) September 24, 2015
Even Kim Kardashian weighed in on the pope’s address with her own brand of commentary:
The pope is dope
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) September 24, 2015