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Pope’s Climate Push Comes To Nothing In US Congress

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Andrew Restuccia and Darren Goode, Politico

Pope Francis challenged lawmakers to take “courageous actions” to tackle climate change on Thursday, but the partisan fight in Congress on the environment barely paused.

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Hours after the Popemobile departed Thursday morning, House Republicans took up a bill that would block the government from measuring the carbon impact of construction projects, part of a GOP strategy to throttle President Barack Obama’s green agenda and dim hopes for reaching a global agreement on climate change later this year.

That crusade will continue, Republican lawmakers said, despite the brief bipartisan spirit that swept through Washington during the pope’s visit.

“We were honored to have the pope. He’s a world leader of the Catholic Church. But he’s not an elected member of Congress,” said Illinois Rep. John Shimkus, a top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee. He added: “I don’t think he moves the needle at all.”

A day after the pope praised Obama’s effort to cut air pollution and fight climate change, he took his message to Capitol Hill, but offered a more toned-down call to protect the planet’s environment.

“I am convinced that we can make a difference — I’m sure. And I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play,” the pope told the joint meeting of Congress. “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”

And unlike his statements at the White House Wednesday, the pope’s avoided explicitly mentioning “climate change” by name, though he did quote at length from his June encyclical on the environment, known as “Laudato Si” or “Praise Be To You,” which focused largely on the threat of global warming.

Democrats cheered several times during the Pope’s environmental remarks, giving a sustained standing ovation in response to his call for action, while Republicans offered mostly polite applause. Many GOP lawmakers later said they did not object to the pope’s broad calls to protect the environment, stressing that he never mentioned climate change specifically.

“There is no doubt that all of us are called to be good stewards of the environment,” said presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “The dispute is what the science and evidence demonstrate. That ultimately is a debate that should be had in the halls of Congress based on facts and based on evidence.”

Even Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who calls climate change a hoax, told reporters he found a message he could support.

“Everyone agrees that it is our responsibility to do what we can to provide a good environment,” he said, adding that he believed the pope didn’t mention climate change because he didn’t want to ruffle feathers in Congress. “I think he was being very cautious,” Inhofe said.

But Democrats who have supported Obama’s efforts to fight climate change said there was no questioning that the pope’s speech amounted to a clear directive to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

“We all knew what he was talking about,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “From yesterday’s arrival to today he’s consistently raised that issue.”