Bringing Pope Francis to Congress helped House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) decide to step down from his post and resign from office, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said Friday.
Kaine, like Boehner a devout Catholic, said he thought the Republican leader “reached a feeling of peace about his own time in public life” after the pope’s congressional address on Thursday.
“The speaker had been trying to get the pope to Congress for 20 years,” Kaine told a group of students at Georgetown University on Friday. He must have thought, Kaine said, “‘I’ve done this thing, I don’t really have more to do; I now can say I’m stepping away.’”
Boehner’s decision would be good for the country, at least in the short term, Kaine said, because it “almost guarantees that the government won’t shut down.” The speaker had been battling conservatives in the House who refused to vote for any spending bill that included funding for Planned Parenthood. No longer in fear of a coup, he can now push ahead with a compromise.
Kaine accused Republicans of “playing politics with the papal visit” by scheduling a vote on Planned Parenthood the same day as the speech. But for Catholics, he said, “this is obviously a huge issue, and it’s a complex one and a challenging one.” He noted that while the pope spoke of the need to defend life at all stages, he also highlighted the radical Catholic Dorothy Day, who Kaine noted had an abortion herself.
How much, he asked rhetorically, are these “doctrines about our personal behavior and doctrines about what laws we should pass even for people who are in different churches and have different beliefs?”
The senator personally opposes abortion but not legal restrictions on the practice.
He said he was most challenged by the pope’s condemnation of the international arms trade. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, he said, he has to think — are some agreements, in the pope’s phrasing, “arms for money that’s drenched in the blood of the innocent?”
A good example is Egypt, he said, which faces legitimate terror threats but also jails journalists and political opponents.
“I’ve got to look myself in the mirror,” he said.
As for guns in this country, he said, he didn’t think the pope’s words were “going to change the political equation at all.” Stricter gun laws won’t be implemented, he said, until “an accumulated weight of tragedy finally pierces the conscience, the collective conscience of leaders.”
But overall, he said, the pope gave him a little optimism about congressional gridlock.
“We’re in a world politically of very low expectations right now,” he said, and the pope’s visit “cut against the cloud of indifference or complacency that permeates the place.”