More than one lawmaker may end up boycotting Pope Francis’s much-anticipated address to Congress on Thursday, according to the Republican lawmaker who announced he was skipping the speech.
Catholic Rep. Paul GosarPaul GosarGOP lawmakers leave Trump White House with no deal Paul Ryan gives GOP the hard sell The Hill's Whip List: 34 GOP 'no' votes on ObamaCare repeal plan MORE (R-Ariz.) made waves Friday when he announced he’d boycott Pope Francis’s speech to protest the pontiff’s views on climate change.
Other staunch opponents of the Obama administration’s climate change regulations plan to attend the pope’s historic address despite disagreeing with him on climate change, leaving unclear just who might join Gosar’s protest.
Spokespeople for Reps. Randy Weber (R-Texas) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) said their bosses plan to attend. And Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who famously hurled a snowball on the Senate floor earlier this year to argue against global warming, will be in the chamber for the speech.
Weber and Yoho both cosponsored a resolution authored by Gosar this month to impeach Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. The measure accuses her of making false statements to congressional committees.
Lawmakers predicted to The Hill in recent days that lawmakers would be on their best behavior for Pope Francis’s visit.
Fellow House members reacted with surprise when told of Gosar’s decision to stage a public boycott.
“I don’t understand why anyone would do that,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who is also Catholic, said upon learning of Gosar’s announcement.
“I’m sure I’ll disagree with something the pope says. I mean, I don’t exactly agree with all of the Catholic Church’s views on contraception, for example. But I still embrace my religion. It’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit here and listen to the Holy Father,” Curbelo said.
Curbelo also differs with Gosar on climate change. He was one of 11 Republicans who signed a resolution this week vowing to fight the effects of climate change. The resolution was notable in that it said human beings were a cause of climate change.
The Vatican has kept a remarkably tight lid so far on the contents of the pope’s address.
He’s expected to touch upon a wide range of topics during his speech, such as income inequality, immigration, normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba, the Iran nuclear deal, abortion and climate change. However, no topics have been officially confirmed.
Most lawmakers are skeptical he’ll lobby Congress to adopt specific policy changes, anticipating he’ll adhere to a more spiritual message.
“I think he brings a message of hope to a foreign country,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who is Catholic. “I think it’s going to open some minds and hopefully some hearts.”
Avoiding policy prescriptions is a standard they’d apply to any head of state, they say.
Many Democrats, for instance, opted to skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress in March because they knew he’d try to lobby them against the Iran nuclear negotiations.
“I don’t think the pope giving us specific policy charges would be appropriate or well received. And for any head of state to come here and do that,” Curbelo said.
Gosar announced his intention to skip the speech in a Townhall.com op-ed in which he accused Pope Francis of acting like a “leftist politician.”
“If the Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be the first in line,” he wrote.
“If the Pope spoke out with moral authority against violent Islam, I would be there cheering him on. If the Pope urged the Western nations to rescue persecuted Christians in the Middle East, I would back him wholeheartedly. But when the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one,” Gosar wrote.
Asked by The Hill if he would regret boycotting the speech if Pope Francis ends up barely mentioning climate change, the three-term congressman paused for a moment before responding: “Maybe then I influenced it.”
Gosar’s office said it has given away its House chamber gallery ticket and 39 of its 50 West Front lawn tickets to constituents and other lawmaker offices asking for extras. It still has 11 more outdoor tickets left for constituents who want to attend.
About 50,000 people are expected to gather on the Capitol grounds for Pope Francis’s address, with tickets a hot commodity in Washington.
It likely won’t take long to find someone else to fill Gosar’s place. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) joked on Twitter: “Hey Paul, can I have your tickets?”