Francis under fire from conservatives
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As Pope Francis prepares this week to deliver a historic address to Congress, he is drawing fire from an unlikely group: Conservative hardliners.
 
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) announced last week that he will boycott Thursday’s speech over expected remarks on climate change, saying the pontiff is acting like a “leftist politician.”
 
Rush Limbaugh called Francis’s views on capitalism “pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.” And conservative columnist George Will wrote in a recent column that the Holy Father "embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony.”
 
This pope is no liberal on many of the social issues — such as abortion and gay marriage — that matter most to the far right. But his positions on immigration, relations with Cuba and Iran, and income inequality are at odds with those held by the GOP.
 
“That is potentially a significant political loss for the Republican Party. For the last 20 to 30 years, they've been able to say they have the support of an outspoken moral leader,” said Timothy Byrnes, a Colgate University professor and author of “Catholic Bishops in American Politics.”
 
Recent polling shows Francis is widely popular among Americans. A CNN/ORC Poll released this week found that 63 percent of Americans view Pope Francis favorably, compared to 74 percent among Catholics specifically.
 
While Francis has been outspoken in debates about income inequality and climate change, the Catholic Church’s doctrine has fundamentally remained the same since he was elected to the papacy in 2013. Francis remains opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, even if he doesn’t highlight it as often.
 
Republicans who choose to publicly disagree with the views of a major religious leader whose every word matters to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics do so at their own peril.
 
“It’s perfectly appropriate for conservatives to object to the pope’s views on government policy. And to do so in a high-minded way,” said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean. “What people have to be careful of is going over the line with their rhetoric.”
 
Republicans have to be particularly careful given that their base includes conservative religious evangelicals, strategists say.
 
“That's the Pandora's box that Republicans have to navigate particularly given the religious fervor of their supporters. But at the same time, they need to find a way to stand up on the key critical political issues,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.
 
Francis himself dismisses the notion that he falls into one political category.
 
“Some people might say some things sounded slightly more left-ish, but that would be a mistake of interpretation,” Francis said aboard his flight Tuesday from Cuba to Joint Base Andrews.
 
And it’s not just Republicans who have been making political hay out of the pope's views. Democrats are also capitalizing on Pope Francis’s visit to highlight their legislative priorities.
 
House Democrats unveiled three videos on Tuesday asking Pope Francis to discuss climate change, immigration reform and income inequality during his Thursday address to Congress.
 
“House Democrats agree with Pope Francis on the compelling need to fix our broken immigration system, to combat climate change that threatens our health and communities, and to raise the minimum wage so that no one working hard full-time lives in poverty,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said in a statement.