The White House made clear today that it’s eager for Pope Francis to spread a message against climate change when he comes to the U.S. next week — but they’re not eager for him to wade into issues like abortion that they brand as domestic, internal issues.
On a call with reporters today to preview the pontiff’s visit, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said President Obama, who will meet Wednesday with the pope at the White House, has “enormous respect for the pope’s leadership of the Church and also his leadership on a whole host of issues that are important to the future of people everywhere.”
“He’s also been an outspoken advocate for protecting God’s creation in terms of how we care for our environment and also the efforts that need to be taken to combat climate change,” Rhodes continued. “And he, in both his words and his deeds, I think has called all of us to address the challenges of poverty and inequality in our own country and around the world, and again, has brought I think a moral clarity to how he addresses that issue and calls on all of us to care for the least among us.”
But when asked about the pope’s moral leadership on abortion, Rhodes said the pope “sets his own agenda and speaks his own mind and has his own pastoral mission, and we would not expect in any way the pope to influence — we would not in any way want to create any expectation that the pope is going to be a voice in U.S. domestic political issues.”
Pope Francis addresses Congress the day after meeting with Obama. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has slammed an upcoming vote on Planned Parenthood defunding as “political show votes on abortion that have nothing to do with keeping the federal government open” but are meant to impress the pope.
Reid voiced on the Senate floor Wednesday the same White House attitude: climate change but no abortion.
“Pope Francis has been admired for his humility and honesty. Rather than shirk responsibility from important and controversial global challenges, he has confronted them,” Reid said. “While he and I don’t agree on everything, his statements on climate change, immigration reform and income inequality have challenged world leaders.”
The House votes tomorrow on the Defund Planned Parenthood Act and Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-Ariz.) Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. “While the House prepares to take much-needed action, President Obama continues to hope this crisis will go away,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. “He still has not watched these horrific videos, and his administration flatly dismisses any need for investigation. Such blind support for the abortion business is totally indefensible.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted at her news conference today that the bill is just about lawmakers who “don’t believe in family planning.”
“This isn’t about terminating a pregnancy; everybody grants everyone their position on that subject,” Pelosi said. “But most people believe that family planning — most Catholics overwhelmingly, believe that family planning is an appropriate practice.”
Rhodes told reporters on the White House call that “the fact of the matter is that there will be — when it comes to the policies of our administration and the priorities that the president sets, there are a whole host of issues where there is much common ground with the mission of the Vatican, and there have been issues where there have been differences as it relates to other issues. So that’s just the nature of this relationship.”
They “welcome the Pope’s voice and leadership” on issues like climate change because “we don’t just view that as a U.S. issue, it’s a global issue.”
“I think the Pope has spoken about the need for all of us to meet our responsibility to care for God’s creation. And that I think provides an important moral backdrop to the type of policy decisions that individual leaders will make on climate change,” Rhodes said. “…And I think we see his message as providing a moral and spiritual backdrop to the decisions we make in government and in our own lives.”
Charlie Kupchan, senior director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, added that “we know from [the pope’s] previous travels that we don’t know what he’s going to say until he says it.”
“And in that respect, we are fully expecting that there will be some messages with which we may respectfully disagree or have differences, but that on many of the big-ticket items, the ones that Ben just mentioned, like climate change, like fighting inequality, like fighting poverty, like reaching out to people in distress and people in need, his essential messages will resonate very much with the president’s agenda,” Kupchan said. “And in that respect, we are hoping that his moral authority helps us advance many of the items that we take to be very high on our policy agenda.”