The big idea
Politics will be on the agenda when President Biden meets the pope
Long before Woodrow Wilson became the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a pope — Benedict XV, on Jan. 4, 1919 — the two leaders had exchanged letters, notably about the negotiations meant to end World War I. Benedict had a prescient warning.
“[P]eace cannot be lasting if conditions are imposed which leave deep-sown seeds of rancour and projects of revenge. The history of the past is the master of the future,” the pontiff wrote to Wilson days before the Nov. 11, 1918 armistice. Excessive punishment of Germany is thought today to have been a factor in Adolf Hitler’s rise.
The White House said Thursday Biden and Francis would discuss “efforts grounded in respect for fundamental human dignity, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor.”
Will Biden be denied Communion?
“Biden is aligned with the pontiff on many central issues, including climate change and economic disparities. But the question of whether he should receive Communion — which is likely to come to a boil when bishops hold their annual meeting in November — has set off an awkward dynamic, not just between Biden and the church but also between Francis and American Catholic leaders.”
And, they reported, “Biden is probably the most observant president in decades, regularly attending Mass. He has been tight-lipped about the possibility of being denied the Eucharist. In the meantime, he receives Communion in Washington, where the archbishop, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, believes the sacred rite should not be denied even when there are philosophical disagreements.”
“Francis has not taken an explicit stance on what should happen, but the pope in September appeared to criticize conservative bishops who are trying to make a political point. Francis said that abortion is ‘murder’ but also that the decision to grant Communion should be a pastoral, not political, one.”
Biden has met with Pope Francis three times. President Barack Obama dispatched him to the pontiff’s installation mass in March 2013. The two had a brief personal encounter in which they shook hands and the future president uttered some inaudible pleasantries. They also met when Francis visited the United States — including the White House — in September 2015.
In April 2016, Biden and Francis spoke at the Vatican about the importance of research to defeat cancer, an illness that had felled the future president’s son Beau, whose rosary Biden still wears.
Routine but ceremonial
Meetings between popes and presidents are highly ceremonial — yet routine. Every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has met with a pope, some more than once or with more than one pope. George W. Bush has the record: Six sit-downs with the bishop of Rome.
And the leaders of the surviving Cold War superpower and a religion that claims 1.34 billion followers around the world frequently run to politics.
In 1979, Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit the White House, where he held talks with President Jimmy Carter. Their conversation ranged widely — the Philippines, China, Europe, South Korea, and the Middle East, according to Carter’s notes — and they agreed on the importance of promoting human rights.
The relationship between President Ronald Reagan and John Paul II — the first Polish pope — became a crucial Cold-War alliance. The pontiff regularly criticized Moscow and championed freedom of religion, a principle unknown in the Soviet bloc. In 1984, Reagan sent the first formal U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
When Bush met with John Paul II in July 2001, the pontiff warned against “practices that devalue and violate human life from conception until natural death” — abortion, the death penalty, and embryonic stem cell research. A month later, Bush banned the use of federal funds for research using new cell lines. The pope would go on to denounce the invasion of Iraq to Bush's face in 2004.
Obama met with popes three times — with Benedict XVI in July 2009 and in March 2014 with Francis, who came to the White House September 2015.
The March 2014 discussion at the Vatican came amid tensions between Obama and American Catholic bishops over the contraception mandate in Obamacare.
The Vatican went on to be a key facilitator of Obama’s outreach to Cuba, which included reopening the U.S. Embassy there.
Francis frequently took positions opposite former president Donald Trump — and it started even before he took office, when the pontiff took aim at the Republican’s promise to build a wall along America’s border with Mexico.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” Francis said in February 2016.
“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened,” he said. “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”
In another notable dust-up, Francis in January 2018 took aim at Trump’s attacks on the news media, which the president regularly (and wrongly) dubbed “fake news.”
In a papal message, Francis described the serpent that tempted Eve to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil as “the first fake news.”
The pope also chided reporters, calling for “a journalism that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines.”
What's happening now
Nikolas Cruz to plead guilty to Parkland massacre
Cruz's attorneys said Friday the 23-year-old would plead guilty to killing 17 people in a February 2018 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. “The defense team is seeking 17 consecutive life sentences for Cruz, 23. Prosecutors are asking for the death penalty,” Derek Hawkins and Mark Berman report.
U.S. restrictions to end for fully vaccinated international travelers
“Assistant White House press secretary Kevin Munoz said the United States will lift travel restrictions for fully vaccinated international travelers on Nov. 8,” Andrew Jeong, Adela Suliman and María Luisa Paúl report. “Under the new policy, foreign travelers will need to show proof of both vaccination and a recent negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight. Those traveling by land will not need to provide a negative test.”
Former Boeing chief test pilot indicted over 737 Max crashes
The Justice Department announced Thursday that Mark A. Forkner has been charged with fraud for “allegedly deceiving federal authorities about a part of the flight controls on 737 Max airplanes, a model that led to horrific crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed hundreds of people,” Devlin Barrett and Michael Laris report. “In late 2016, federal prosecutors say, Forkner discovered information about an important change made to part of the plane’s flight controls, called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). He allegedly decided not to share the information with the FAA.”
Suicide bombers hit Shiite mosque in Afghanistan, killing more than 50 Friday
“The attack comes a week after an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked a crowded Shiite mosque during Friday prayers in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, killing nearly 50 worshipers and wounding dozens more.” Ezzatullah Mehrdad and Helier Cheung report.
Southern Baptist leader Ronnie Floyd resigns after fight over sex abuse investigation
“In a letter released Thursday, [Ronnie Floyd, acting CEO of the business arm for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination] wrote, ‘I will not and cannot any longer fulfill the duties placed on me,’ adding that the vote on Oct. 5 placed Southern Baptists into ‘uncertain, unknown, unprecedented and unchartered waters” that created potential risks to the SBC’s liability,’ Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports. “The SBC has been rocked by reports of hundreds of sexual abuse cases revealed in a 2019 investigation by the Houston Chronicle.”
Lunchtime reads from The Post
Republicans ‘wince’ at donor gathering as Trump refuses to move past 2020
Ramping up for next year’s midterms, Trump wants to focus on the 2020 election. GOP strategists and lawmakers want to focus on Biden, Josh Dawsey and Michael Scherer report.
- A new kind of threat: “[Trump] moved into new territory Wednesday when he released a statement threatening the GOP with ballot-box repercussions if candidates do not embrace his false claims that the White House race was rigged.”
- Those who follow: “Already, many GOP candidates are following Trump’s lead, echoing false allegations that the election results were manipulated and raising the prospect that fraud will taint other elections.”
- ‘Winces’ at gathering of Republican operatives this week in Palm Beach: “It gives everyone cold sweats over the Georgia situation and the prospect he could have some impact again,” said one top party strategist.
- Walking the tightrope: “Republicans running in competitive general elections, such as Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, have been wary of tying themselves too closely to Trump’s claims about the 2020 election, while trying not to do anything that would spark Trump’s ire and turn off his supporters.”
Why is inflation in today’s economy different? Alyssa Fowers and Rachel Siegel break it down in four charts. “Policymakers often argue that price increases are limited to pandemic-battered industries, like hotels, airlines and used cars. But federal data on Wednesday pointed to food and shelter costs rising in September, together contributing to more than half of the monthly increase of all items, when seasonally adjusted.”
… and beyond
Democrats' apathy could be a barrier for Terry McAuliffe, the New York Times's Jonathan Martin reports. “A lot of folks are dealing with so many other things, I’m not sure that the broader community knows this is taking place, or that it’s rising to the level of importance,' said Sean Miller, who runs the Boys & Girls Club in a largely Black part of Richmond and who gave Mr. McAuliffe a tour of his center this week."
- The Trump card: “Just as Gov. Gavin Newsom of California did before his larger-than-expected recall victory last month, Mr. McAuliffe is calling Democrats to the barricades by warning that Mr. Youngkin would build a liberal house of horrors in Virginia: Texas’ abortion laws, Florida’s Covid policies and, most ominous of all, Mr. Trump’s rebirth.”
“USDA flagged multiple fraudulent Covid-19 hunger relief deliveries. Then it paid millions for them anyway,” the Counter's Jessica Fu and H. Claure Brown report. “The report lends new evidence to previous allegations that the taxpayer-funded program paid contractors well over market price for food, placed undue burdens on already-taxed food banks and pantries, then failed to conduct sufficient oversight on the contractors it flagged for potential fraud.”
- “According to investigators, USDA approved millions of dollars in payments for deliveries that it could not verify had actually taken place. Thus, money meant to alleviate hunger during the public health crisis may have done little more than line the pockets of unscrupulous contractors.”
The Biden agenda
DHS acting to reimplement ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy
Biden to reimplement Trump-era ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy
“In August, a U.S. District Court in Texas ordered the Biden administration to restart MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” faulting the White House for ending the program improperly. The Supreme Court upheld the decision, forcing Biden officials to restore a policy the president has deplored as inhumane,” Nick Miroff reports.
- The policy, known as Migrant Protection Protocols, cannot resume without Mexico’s consent … "The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement late Thursday it is “taking necessary steps to comply with the court order, which requires us to reimplement MPP in good faith.”
- Context: “The Trump administration used MPP to return more than 60,000 asylum seekers across the border to Mexico, requiring them to wait outside U.S. territory as their claims were processed in U.S. courts. The policy was conceived by Trump officials as a way to prevent border-crossers from being released into the United States — and avoiding deportation — by making asylum claims.”
The Biden administration pledged $100 million to help underserved communities attract medical workers
“The program will help medical professionals working in certain areas pay off education loans, in an attempt to keep them from leaving for jobs in places with higher salaries,” Andrew Jeong reports.
- “About 15.9 million people were working in health care nationwide as of September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down about 524,000 from February 2020.”
U.S. to donate 17 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to the African Union
Biden announced the donation Thursday at the start of his meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, AP’s Aamer Madhani reports. “Africa lags behind much of the world in vaccinations: Only nine African countries met the World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating at least 10% of the population by the end of September.”
Administration to press Wall Street on climate
“The report outlines administration goals, including forcing financial firms to more directly address the risks of climate change, creating new protections for savings and pension plans and making climate change more a factor in federal budgeting and procurement,” the Wall Street Journal’s Timothy Puko and Paul Kiernan report.
Texas redistricting, visualized
“A new Texas congressional map shreds Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s Houston-based district, siphoning off thousands of her Black constituents and forcing her into a potential primary against her neighboring Black incumbent, Rep. Al Green (D).”
Hot on the left
New York Times editorial board member Michelle Cottle has a question: Is it time for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) to leave the Democratic party? “Some have suggested that she’s charting a path out of office entirely. But Ms. Sinema’s better course may be not to leave the Senate but to split with her party. Her departure might even wind up being a positive for all involved.”
Hot on the right
Republican chaos reigns in Nevada, Politico's David Siders reports. “The turmoil is spreading across the battleground state, consuming the GOP in a bonfire of lawsuits, counterclaims and resignations.”
- “Oh my God,” said Amy Tarkanian, a former chair of the state Republican Party. “It’s really, really embarrassing, just as a whole.”
Today in Washington
Biden will promote his Build Back Better Agenda in at 1:45 p.m. in Hartford, Conn.
At 4 p.m., the president will speak at the dedication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut.
Want to binge Netflix's wildly popular “Squid Game" this weekend but violence makes you queasy? Angela Haupt asked experts for some tips to help you get through the show — so you can finally understand what everyone has been talking about.
Thanks for reading. See you Monday.