Arizona lawmakers give their blessing to Pope Francis’ speech to Congress

WASHINGTON – Members of Arizona’s congressional delegation gave generally high marks to Pope Francis’ Thursday speech to Congress that touched on immigration, climate change and the death penalty, among other potentially sensitive topics.

While the lawmakers disagreed with the pontiff on some issues, each said he or she drew inspiration from his words on at least one of the topics.

Even Rep. Paul Gosar who boycotted the speech said he approved of the way the pope ended the address, by talking about the importance of families. But the Prescott Republican said that, on the whole, he did not regret his highly publicized decision to stay away.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, focused on the tone as much as the topics. Washington could use “a lot of compassion, and love, and peace and cooperation,” which is exactly what she said the pope brought to the city.

McSally said other Congress members “were listening very attentively to what he (the pope) had to share with us, and reflecting on it even as he was speaking.”

For some, listening attentively was required: Rep. David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills, said he could only make out every fifth word at points.

“The reality was, for a lot of us on the floor of the House, it was hard to hear,” he said. But after he had a chance to read the transcript, Schweikert praised it as what he called a “life document.”

“There were so many people in this town that wanted it to be a political document,” Schweikert said. “I think the pope may have thread the needle to avoid priming the pump of the folks that wanted to use the pope as a political symbol instead of as a spiritual symbol.”

Nonetheless, Pope Francis touched on delicate political issues like immigration in his address. He said the people of this continent “are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” according to the prepared text of his speech.

“(If) we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities,” he said. “The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

It was the first time a pope has addressed Congress, and comes during a whirlwind U.S. tour that included a meeting Wednesday at the White House with President Barack Obama. Pope Francis will be in New York Friday to deliver a speech at the United Nations, then will attend a conference on families over the weekend in Philadelphia before heading home.

At the Capitol on Thursday, a crowd of 50,000 ticketed attendees watched the address simulcast on giant TV screens on the West Front, while thousands more lined the Mall. Inside, the House chamber was packed with senators and representatives as well as Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices and invited guests in the gallery, which was standing room only.

Cheers rang out in the crowded chamber whenever the pope referred to immigration. Among those cheering was Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix.

“We are a country of immigrants,” Gallego said. “I think we should continue that legacy.”

Gallego said he also agreed with other issues in the speech, including the pope’s opposition to the death penalty, which the lawmaker called “morally consistent with what the church has been saying for a while.”

“He (the pope) particularly hit on things that are very close to me,” Gallego said, pointing to immigration and climate change.

While others were listening in the House chamber, Gosar was in his Capitol Hill office watching the speech on television. Gosar said afterward that he thought the speech “didn’t present any solutions,” just talking about the problems instead.

“He didn’t try to ruffle too many feathers,” Gosar said.

Still, Gosar said he gives “kudos when kudos are deserved.”

“The importance of the family, not only in this country, but worldwide,” Gosar said of one element in the pope’s address. “I applaud him for ending on such a strong note.”

Gosar continued to criticize the pope for not highlighting the threats to Christians in some countries, but Gallego challenged that statement.

“The pope is already doing a lot, calling for religious tolerance and fair treatment of all human beings,” Gallego said.

Besides, he noted, the pope doesn’t answer to members of Congress.

“He only answers to one person,” Gallego said.

– Cronkite News reporters Adriana Barajas, Elizabeth Blackburn and Charles McConnell contributed to this report.


– Cronkite News video by Charles McConnell