The Note: The Pope on the Hill

September 24, 2015, 8:54 AM


--POPE FRANCIS CREATES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS AMONG 2016ers: Congressional leaders have warned their flock about slowing down Pope Francis when he addresses them in Washington today -- no fist bumps or selfies please -- but that hasn't prevented campaigners of all stripes from attempting to use the historic visit for their own political gain, ABC's BEN GITTLESON reports. Presidential contenders on both sides of the aisle have for days been criticizing and lauding the pope on his views on climate change, foreign affairs and economic justice, among others.

--SEVERAL REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES HAVE TAKEN ISSUE WITH AN ENCYCLICAL the pope released in June calling global warming largely manmade, a view that bucks a popular belief in the party that minimizes humans' role in climate change, GITTLESON notes. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said then Francis should leave "science to the scientists." Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said earlier this week he hoped the pope isn't "overly critical of our country or the systems that made us the richest country in the world and also the most humanitarian." Pope Francis does not fit onto the left-right spectrum of U.S. politics, analysts said. Instead, they said, he tries to rise above the fray with a message that brings the Roman Catholic Church's teachings to those it has not traditionally reached.

--IN THE AUDIENCE TODAY: Presidential candidates and Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Bernie Sanders are all expected to attend the Pope's address to Congress this morning, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE notes. Vice President Joe Biden who is not a candidate yet, but still looking like one, will also attend the address. Ben Carson and Chris Christie are also expected to be in the audience.

--NOTED: Yesterday, Pope Francis made an off-the-record visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor to show his support for their fight against the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, ABC's MEREDITH MCGRAW notes. In late August, the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Little Sisters of the Poor a short-term shelter from the mandate.

--ANALYSIS -- ABC's RICK KLEIN: His rivals are smelling something -- whether or not that's coming out of his ... whatever. Three new national polls show Donald Trump's lead softening, with his fellow outsiders and even some -- gasp -- elected officeholders rising. Scott Walker left the race with a cry for help in dumping Trump. Trump is now at war with just about anybody in sight -- Fox News, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, and now Marco Rubio, his critique of whom includes his youth and his propensity to perspire. It suggests a potential inflection point in a GOP race Trump has owned virtually from the moment his got on that escalator. The frontrunner looks vulnerable -- and, perhaps oddly, it's not his policy positions or political history that matter in this equation. It's his very Trump-ness that has him now in this position, with rival campaigns seeing signs that its novelty is wearing off.

--POPE WEEK IN THE NOTE. The Note is setting aside a special place for daily insight and analysis of the Holy Father's trip. As our guide, we've enlisted the help of Father Michael A. Russo, an expert on the papacy who is serving this week as a media consultant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In today's installment, we asked Father Russo (@frmikerusso), who also blogs at, to reflect on the Pope's day in Washington, DC yesterday and to preview Pope Francis' speech to a joint session of Congress this morning.

--FR. RUSSO: "The events of yesterday with the formal reception for the pope at the White House, the pope's meeting with the American bishops at Saint Matthew's Cathedral, and the Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra at the National Shrine marked a very full day for Pope Francis, and at times he appeared tired, and maybe more than overwhelmed by all the excitement. Such events are so large that perhaps no one person has a complete command of its totality. Even for us lucky enough to work in the press/media center or television control rooms, you can miss some of the speeches and movements, and only a few images register in your memory. Thus, we take our own personal and at times selective snapshots.

"For me, one amazing image of the Pope Francis stands out, that of Pope Francis riding in the 'popemobile' as his motorcade moved down Pennsylvania Avenue, from the White House to Saint Matthew's Cathedral. The cheering crowds on the sidewalks, the fast pace of the Secret Service aside the vehicle, and the pope's loving and smiling embrace of the few children allowed to come to him caught my attention. We have parades like this for presidential inaugurations, but this was one huge victory lap, and reminiscent in size to that of General Douglas McArthur's return from the Pacific after World War II.

"I was watching from the tight confines of the pool TV control room located at the National Shrine and assisting with the timing of the liturgy, picking up but mostly listening to the commands of TV director Eric Siegel, and Executive Producer Phil Alongi, as they carefully called shots to their twenty-three camera operators surrounding the outdoor altar and inside the basilica. From here the canonization Mass was seen on television screens around the globe and on the newer devises of the media age: iPads, tablets, smart phones, and even watches. At the end of the long day, the crowd waiting patiently for the pope on the steps of the basilica, saw their own image on the giant television screen facing them, like at a football game, that televised echo of themselves. With a certain precision, they cheered on cue as the pope moved from the doors of the church and into his Fiat, it was there that thousands of the faithful waved to him -- and to the world watching on the global screen."



PRESIDENT OBAMA, POPE FRANCIS EXCHANGE GIFTS AT WHITE HOUSE. What does the leader of the free world give the leader of the Catholic Church? According to ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ, President Obama and Pope Francis privately engaged in the traditional diplomatic gift exchange as they marked the pontiff's first visit to the White House.

DONALD TRUMP: WHAT HE SAID ABOUT THE POPE. All eyes are on the pope in the United States. While the Holy Father is meeting with President Obama at the White House, presidential hopefuls for the job are sharing their thoughts on the pontiff and his positions on climate change, immigration and social issues. One 2016 candidate has been tweeting about the pope since day one, ABC'S RYAN STRUYK notes.

WHY JOE BIDEN IS FOLLOWING POPE FRANCIS THROUGHOUT HIS US TRIP. It seems wherever Pope Francis goes on his trip to the United States, so does Vice President Joe Biden, the government's highest-ranking Catholic. ABC'S ARLETTE SAENZ reports, while President Obama was front and center at the White House Wednesday, Biden, the first Roman Catholic vice president, will trail the pope throughout his six-days to the United States.

DEMOCRATS ATTACK JEB BUSH'S "MULTICULTURALISM" COMMENT. "We should not have a multicultural society," said Jeb Bush Tuesday in Iowa, ABC'S CANDACE SMITH reports. It was a curious statement from the Republican presidential candidate. Bush, whose wife is Mexican-born and has three Mexican-American children, has long embraced "the immigrant experience." He's been a consistent advocate of comprehensive immigration reform that gives immigrants a path to legal status, ABC'S CANDACE SMITH notes.

DONALD TRUMP DISHES ON SECOND PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE PERSPIRATION. Donald Trump isn't sweating the competition -- but apparently other candidates were during the second GOP presidential candidates' debate. According to ABC'S RYAN STRUYK, the Republican frontrunner described Wednesday -- in vivid and memorable detail -- how his fellow White House hopefuls reacted to the temperature during last week's three-hour marathon debate.


GET A SNEAK PEEK INSIDE BEN CARSON'S CAMPAIGN BUS. ABC News has gotten exclusive behind the scenes access to Dr. Ben Carson's campaign bus, also known as the "Healer Hauler". Traveling with Carson is his wife, Candy and a small cadre of trusted advisors, ABC'S KATHERINE FAULDERS has more.


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