Why Pope Francis Will Have No Time For Fist-Bumps on Capitol Hill
The pope will only spend a brief period of time in the capitol.
By BENJAMIN SIEGEL
September 23, 2015, 1:02 AM
• 4 min read
-- Pope Francis is set to spend little more than an hour on Capitol Hill Thursday -– and congressional leaders want to make the most of that limited time.
That means no congressional fist-bumps.
Leadership and the organizers behind the pope’s visit are employing a number of strategies to keep His Holiness on schedule, and have the well-orchestrated event that has been months in the making go off without a hitch.
They’ve asked members to refrain “from handshakes and conversation along and down the center aisle” of the House floor during the announced arrivals of the pope, the Supreme Court and other officials, according to a letter sent to offices last week.
Pope Francis will meet with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has long sought a papal address to Congress, and spend a few minutes with other House and Senate leaders.
“I'm really happy to have the pope come and visit us,” he said last week. “It's going to be one of the biggest events in the history of the Capitol, and members on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol are looking forward to it.”
Any delays from members could derail the pope’s tight schedule –- he’ll next head to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and Catholic Charities, before leaving Washington, DC for New York City later in the day.
A holdup could also rush his planned appearance on the West Front of the Capitol, where more than 40,000 people will be waiting to hear him speak briefly from the Speaker’s Balcony before departing Capitol Hill.
To that end, members won’t be allowed to leave the chamber until the pope leaves the Capitol.
Leadership has also selected members to sit along the center aisle of the House chamber to “create a physical zone of restraint” between members and the pope, according to Roll Call.
A Democratic leadership aide tells ABC News that certain Members have been selected to fill the aisle seats – which are usually open to the rank-and-file for large addresses and State of the Union speeches.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs committee known for his prowess at wrangling aisle seats to State of the Union addresses, says members should focus on the historic nature of the pope's visit -- not their proximity to His Holiness.
“I intend to go and sit in whatever seat is available,” said Engel. “It’s important to listen to him and hear what he has to say.”
Engel has already greeted a pope: As a newly-elected member visiting Italy in 1989, he attended mass at the Vatican. He still remembers shaking hands will Pope John Paul II – and the pope saying “God Bless America.”
“You remember it, it’s not someone you meet every day,” he said of meeting the pope. “Certain people stand out in history, and I suspect this will be the same thing.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, a self-described "hugger and shaker of hands," joked that she'll sit far away from the pope "in order to resist temptation.'
"Members of Congress know how to behave themselves," she said. "I don't mind [the rules] because this is a huge event."