As the White House prepares to welcome Pope Francis to Washington D.C., President Obama’s aides are confident that his message will align with their agenda – particularly on climate change, immigration, income equality, and increasing an economic relationship with Cuba.
No one appears more excited about the Pope’s effect on their policies than Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic. Biden has eagerly welcomed the election of Pope Francis, openly signaling his preference for the South American pontiff. “We’ve got a good one now,” he said earlier this summer.
Earlier this week, Biden appeared hopeful that Pope Francis would help overcome what he described as a “sick message” from Donald Trump on illegal immigration.
“But in the meantime, focus on, watch the response that Pope Francis gets,” he said confidently during an event with prominent Hispanic-Americans. “Watch the response he gets.”
Biden delivered a similar message on climate change, during a speech to the Solar Power International Conference in California earlier this week.
“As you’re going to hear from the pope, there’s also a moral argument,” he said, referring to the pope’s visit,.
During a discussion with reporters about the pope’s visit, White House aides expressed the same optimism about the pope’s political alignment with the president’s agenda.
“His essential messages will resonate very much with the President’s agenda,” noted Charlie Kupchan, the White House Senior Director for European Affairs to White House reporters yesterday, pointing to the pope’s remarks on poverty, inequality, and climate change. “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.”
Ben Rhodes, the White House Deputy National Security Advisor, concluded recent rhetoric from the pope on climate change, lent “moral authority” to Obama’s second term push on the issue.
“I think the Pope has spoken about the need for all of us to meet our responsibility to care for God’s creation,” Rhodes said during a call with reporters. “And that I think provides an important moral backdrop to the type of policy decisions that individual leaders will make on climate change.”
On Cuba, Rhodes admitted that Pope Francis proved an important “moral degree of support” to Obama’s push for greater economic exchange with the communist country.
But in spite of their confidence in the Pope’s message, White House aides cautioned that he might say things that they disagreed with, referring to Pope Francis’ reputation for speaking off the cuff.
“[T]his Pope is a very independent figure, and we know from his previous travels that we don’t know what he’s going to say until he says it,” Kupchan admitted. “And in that respect, we are fully expecting that there will be some messages with which we may respectfully disagree or have differences.”