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After Pope's Speech To Congress, Praise From Both Sides Of The Aisle


In his message to Congress yesterday, Pope Francis had a little something for everyone. He broached hot-button topics like climate change, immigration, abortion and the depolarization that divides Washington. Much of his message pleased Democrats. Some of it pleased Republicans. But overall reaction was admiration, as NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It had never happened before - a pope addressing a joint meeting of the House and Senate.


POPE FRANCIS: I am most grateful for the invitation to address this joint session of Congress in the land of the free and the home of the brave.


GONYEA: The pope spoke softly in measured tones, urging those seated before him to act with compassion on immigration, openness toward refugees, to move urgently to address climate change while also restating church opposition to abortion, the death penalty and same-sex marriage. At times, you could discern some partisanship in the applause for any given line, but that didn't temper the compliments afterward.


PETER KING: And it was just a very - yeah - a uplifting, majestic moment.

GONYEA: That's Republican Congressman Peter King of New York on CNN. King noted that he doesn't support everything the Pope said.


KING: And I don't agree on some of the political decisions he makes, but I certainly agree on the moral component to it.

GONYEA: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is Catholic, put it this way on MSNBC.


NANCY PELOSI: The pope was very, shall we say, maybe diplomatic or philosophical in how he presented what he said.

GONYEA: House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, and Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, were seated on the podium right behind the pope. Both are devout Catholics and each was clearly moved by the occasion. In the chamber were seven declared presidential candidates. Among them Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, who told CNN the pope raised issues people don't like to talk about.


BERNIE SANDERS: Poverty, the issue of environmental degradation, immigration, the death penalty, the need to do everything we can to create a peaceful world. And I think he did it in a very dignified, nonpartisan-type way.

GONYEA: GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson was present as a guest.


BEN CARSON: I thought it was very uplifting.

GONYEA: But when asked about the Syrian refugee crisis and the pope's call to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, Carson said the U.S. is already doing a great deal.


CARSON: We can be compassionate, but we must be smart. We already take in more immigrants than anybody else. Let's emphasize the need for other people to take them in.

GONYEA: A recurring theme for the pope was the need to work together. That was aimed at the depolarization in Congress that prompted this from Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy on MSNBC.


PATRICK LEAHY: If it did bring us together, if it did stop the animosity and the gridlock in Congress, you would hear the whole country - hallelujah, this has really done something. So I hope it works.

GONYEA: Lord knows that would be a tall order. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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