The very minute that Pope Francis set foot on American soil Tuesday, Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) stood on the Senate floor hailing his arrival, in a quick demonstration of the political dimensions of the papal visit.
Sanders, a presidential candidate and one of the most liberal members of Congress, spent 11 minutes praising the pope for "speaking out with courage and brilliance about some of the most important issues facing our world" — mainly, matters of economic inequality.
He went on to quote several of Francis's statements in "Evangelii Gaudium," his 2013 exhortation critical of a global economic system that favors the rich over the poor.
Among them: "We have created new idols. The worship of the Golden Calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal."
Said Sanders, "I think the pope is right in saying that that is not something that we should be doing."
Another of Sanders's favorite papal quotations: "Today, everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized, without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."
Sanders said that assessment applies to contemporary America: "If you are poor, if you are unemployed, if you are hungry, government turns its back on you. But if you are rich and if you are powerful and if you can make campaign contributions of hundreds of millions of dollars, we love you, we welcome you, we need you more and more."
Earlier in the day, Senate Republicans made a statement of their own, holding a procedural vote on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The legislation failed to advance on a 52 to 42 vote.
Asked afterward how the pope might react to that vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Francis "can speak for himself."
Francis is set to address a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday morning.