Posted: 8:26 pm Sunday, September 20th, 2015
By Jamie Dupree
While the race for President and a looming government shutdown won’t go away as issues in Washington, D.C., this week the nation’s capital will be focused on the visit of Pope Francis, as the Pontiff goes to the White House and addresses the Congress.
For Speaker John Boehner, he has described the Pope’s visit as a “humbling experience,” one that the top Republican in Congress has been trying to make happen for some twenty years.
It will also be an important day for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House – like Boehner, she is also a Catholic.
“We are thrilled and grateful for Pope Francis honoring us with a visit to the Congress and our country,” Pelosi said.
Boehner and Pelosi are part of the nearly one-third of the Congress that identify as Catholic; the US population is about 22 percent Catholic.
But when it comes to Washington, the Pope’s trip isn’t just a simple story about some guy coming to visit the nation’s capital, as it has already stirred political differences on a number of levels.
“Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony,” wrote conservative columnist George Will last week, as Republicans wonder if the Pope will use his visit to demand action on climate change.
That possibility has led one GOP lawmaker – a Catholic – to boycott the Pope’s speech.
“If the Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be the first in line,” said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who is Catholic.
“But when the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one,” said Gosar, the first lawmaker to say he would boycott the papal speech.
Little action on possible government shutdown
While the Pope’s visit will dominate headlines in Washington, D.C., don’t expect much headway this week in the Congress on what’s next in a battle that may lead to a government shutdown.
The schedule in both the House and Senate have no measures related to funding for the federal government, which runs out at midnight on September 30.
It’s not clear if GOP leaders will try to approve a stop-gap budget with extra language that bans federal funding for the group Planned Parenthood; last week the House approved a measure that stops funding for one year in a vote that went almost straight along party lines.
The House has more than enough Republican votes to approve just about anything; but it’s the same old story in the Senate, where Republicans do not have 60 votes for any measure that blocks money for Planned Parenthood.
And the GOP is definitely not on the same page when it comes to a government shutdown fight related to Planned Parenthood.
“I am completely opposed to shutting down the government,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told reporters in her home state last week.
Earlier this month, just off the Senate floor, Ayotte openly questioned the shutdown demands of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), telling reporters that the Cruz strategy won’t work.
“How do we get 60 votes?” Ayotte said in an exasperated voice to reporters just as she left the Senate floor.
“What’s the strategy?” Ayotte added.
That fight will be on simmer this week while the Pope is in town, but will explode the week of September 28.
About the Author
Jamie Dupree is the Radio News Director of the Washington Bureau of the Cox Media Group and writes the Washington Insider blog. A native of Washington, D.C., Jamie has covered Congress and politics in the nation’s capital since the Reagan Administration, and has been reporting for Cox since 1989.