The first visit by Pope Francis to the United States is generating massive interest, including among members of the U.S. House and Senate. You can read the full transcript of the pontiff's Congressional address here.
In a YouTube video and multiple media interviews today, Representative Steve King (R, IA-04) praised the "inclusive" speech and said he had never seen his colleagues as attentive as they were while listening to the Pope. After the jump I've posted what Pope Francis said about immigration and the current global refugee crisis, as well as excerpts from King's reaction. Immigration policy has long been a hot-button issue for the Iowa Republican. His views on birthright citizenship and DREAMers (who were brought to this country illegally as children) are the opposite of welcoming and inclusive.
Most of the Iowans in Congress have not yet commented on listening to the Pope today, but I will add further reaction to this post as needed. King is the only Catholic remaining in Iowa's delegation, following Senator Tom Harkin's retirement last year. Raised a Methodist, King converted to Catholicism seventeen years after marrying his wife Marilyn.
Remarks by Pope Francis to members of Congress about immigration to the United States (excerpted from this transcript of his speech):
In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our "neighbors" and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt 7:12).
This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.
King's office released this YouTube video:
My partial transcript:
[...] It's as if it were a State of the Union address for the globe today, and as he came in, you could see the great warmth and affection that just emanated from all the members that were there and from the gallery. But when he began to speak, I have never seen such focus, such attentiveness--I've never seen the members sit there and listen as attentively as they did [...]
I expected that I would hear a speech today that would be, that would pick out some topics, and in the end, if you look at the topics we expected him to address, I would have expected in the end it would have divided us somehow. But it was a good thing that Pope Francis wrote the speech, and not Steve King, because he wrote a speech that was inclusive, that tied this together. And so it isn't as definitive as maybe I expected to hear, but also, he addressed the important topics. The important topics of life, for example, that we need to protect innocent human life--and it goes without saying, in all of its forms. He spoke to marriage and how the unity of family is essential to our civilization. Those two things are very powerful messages that he delivered. I was very happy to hear those messages delivered.
He also spoke about immigration. And the immigration [message] was, we need to provide opportunities, and we need to treat all people on the planet as our brethren. I certainly, I agree with that. He left out the discussion about the necessity of the nation-state, about how a nation has to have borders, because those borders define the limits of the laws. Without borders, then you end up without law at all.
But he did speak to our common humanity, and I think the central theme in this speech today was something that I heard from him at the White House yesterday: our common home. The earth is our common home. And so we need to take care of the earth as our common home. We'll emphasize those priorities differently, but he encouraged us to talk to each other, to have a dialogue, to communicate and discuss these issues.
He also, I think, put in a plug for free enterprise, when he said business is a constructive influence in our society, especially when it creates jobs. Well, business does create jobs, it's the nature of it.
So all in all, I think that Democrats can go down through this speech and pick out the things that they like. I know I can go down the speech and pick out some things I like. I cannot identify the things that divide us, I can identify the things that unify us. And so, with that regard, I think it was a terrific presentation to the House and the Senate, to a joint session, terrific presentation to the United States of America. A speech that we'll look at for months to come, and we'll go back and understand: we're a common humanity living in a common home. And now we'll sort the priorities out within the parameters that Pope Francis has given to us today.
Speaking on CNN today, King again emphasized that he had never seen the level of "attentiveness" in Congress that he observed today while Pope Francis was speaking. He noted that sometimes the applause began on the Democratic side, other times on the Republican side of the House chamber, but overall, the reception was "balanced," reflecting the language the pontiff used. Asked to comment on the Pope's remarks about the Golden Rule with relation to immigrants, King responded (my transcript),
Well, I'd say that one thing the Catholic Church seems to miss is the importance of the nation-state, of sovereignty. And if you're going to protect the rule of law, you have to have borders and have to have the nation-state. Now also, but I absolutely agree with the Church's position: respect the dignity of every human person. And the language that he uses really focuses on that, and we should encourage and provide opportunities. But on the--by the same token, if we open up our borders, eventually we sink the lifeboat that is America. And that next phase of the practicality of this wasn't addressed in the speech.
"If you take those boundaries out, the rule of law gets mixed, it if exists at all, and it results in anarchy," King said. "We don't want anarchy. And I don't think people here want anarchy. And they're surely trying to get away from anarachy when they're migrating out of the Middle East."
Asked if he meant that letting immigrants into the U.S. was akin to causing anarchy, King said no. But he warned of a lawless, chaotic situation if the U.S. opens its borders to more people.
"If ... anybody who wants to come to America can come, because our heart is so full of compassion that we can't say no, then the result is the borders would be gone, and so would the rule of law," said the Iowa Republican. "That would be like 'Fort Apache The Bronx'* to the infinite power. And I don't want that." [...]
*Fort Apache The Bronx is a 1981 movie about a cop torn between arresting everybody in sight in order to find a cop killer and giving a pass to an officer who kills an innocent man. Also, his girlfriend is a junkie and there's a shoot-out in a hospital with lots of casualties.