Thursday, September 24, 2015

Historic Speech: Pope Francis Addresses Congress

Pope Francis entered the House to a rapturous applause Thursday morning, becoming the first pontiff in history to speak to a joint meeting of Congress. "I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in 'the land of the free and the home of the brave,'" the pope said in his opening remarks. The pope's motorcade arrived at the Capitol at around 9:15 a.m. ET and shortly after, the pontiff was received by House Speaker John Boehner for a private meeting. He will also become the first person to address a crowd on the West Front from the Speaker's balcony, according to Speaker John Boehner's office. Lawmakers of all political backgrounds and religious affiliations have thrilled to the pope's arrival, pledging to pause from the bickering and dysfunction that normally divide them and hear him out Thursday morning. Tens of thousands of spectators will be watching from the West Lawn of the Capitol and many more on TV from around the world as the pope addresses a House chamber packed with Supreme Court justices, Cabinet officials, diplomats, lawmakers and their guests. The crowds started arriving early, and security was tight with streets around the Capitol blocked off and a heavy police presence that rivaled an Inauguration or State of the Union address by the U.S. president. The scene on the West Lawn of the Capitol was festive but orderly, as thousands awaited the pope's appearance on the House Speaker's Balcony after his speech to Congress. Libby Miller of Frederick, Maryland, said her friends all told her she was crazy for schlepping to Capitol Hill with her 4-year-old son, Camden, and 2-year-old daughter, Avery. Miller, armed with toys, snacks and a sippy cup, found a spot on the Capitol lawn and said she wanted her kids to be there for an important moment in history. They won't understand it now, she said, but "they'll get it eventually." "I just want him to be honest about what's going on in the world which he always is," said Sybil Barkett of Miami, who was waiting at Dupont Circle to watch the pope's speech on a jumbotron. "I hope he doesn't hesitate to speak his mind." After the sergeant at arms announces the pope by bellowing "Mr. Speaker, the pope of the Holy See," Francis will enter the chamber and climb to the dais where the president delivers the annual State of the Union address and monarchs and heads of state have addressed Congress. Behind him will sit Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, the first and second in line to the presidency, both Catholics. Ahead of Francis' remarks lawmakers of both parties have busily sought political advantage from his stances, with Democrats in particular delighting in his support for action to overhaul immigration laws and combat global warming and income inequality. One House Republican back-bencher announced plans to boycott the speech over Francis' activist position on climate change, which the pontiff renewed alongside President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

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