In Pope, President Obama Finds Ally to Boost his Agenda

Pope Francis looks on during his weekly audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on September 2, 2015. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO        (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis looks on during his weekly audience in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican on September 2, 2015. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis’s attempt to inject moral urgency into dealing with poverty, immigration and climate change is about to run into entrenched political divisions in the U.S.

The pontiff’s agenda neatly dovetails with that of President Barack Obama, and some of his advisers are looking to Francis’s arrival in the U.S. on Tuesday as a way to lift the prospects of getting the unfinished work of his presidency done.

While Francis has the potential to shape still-evolving public attitudes on climate change at a critical moment, immigration and income inequality are another matter. The political lines are firmly drawn on immigration and Washington’s budget gridlock leaves no room for major new anti-poverty programs.

Francis’s visit will be rich with symbolism advancing the themes of his papacy. He will arrive on a flight from Cuba, underscoring the first Latin American pope’s support for Obama’s opening to the island nation, which the Vatican helped nurture. The pope’s first public mass in the U.S. will be given in Spanish, highlighting his connection with the country’s Hispanic immigrants.

‘Savage Capitalism’

He will go to New York, the global center of finance, after decrying “savage capitalism.” In a June encyclical on climate change, he called for reining in the “absolute power” of the financial markets and criticized “an economy of exclusion and inequality.”

The themes parallel some of the key goals of a president who has imposed new regulations on the financial industry, run for re-election on raising taxes for the rich, struggled unsuccessfully for a new immigration law and then unilaterally granted protection from deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants. Obama also is making getting a global agreement on climate change a primary goal of his final months in office.

“His essential messages will resonate very much with the president’s agenda,” saidCharlie Kupchan, senior director for European affairs on Obama’s National Security Council. “We are hoping that his moral authority helps us advance many of the items.”

That agenda, though, is under sustained challenge from Republicans.
The party’s presidential candidates compete for applause with promises to keep out migrants, and Obama’s executive actions on immigration have been challenged in the courts. Many of the candidates also are running on platforms of reduced financial regulation and tax cuts that would further benefit the wealthy.

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SOURCE: Mike Dorning
Bloomberg

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