Thanks for coming, Pope Francis. We really enjoyed your talk. It even brought some of us to tears. And we’d love to consider your call to action—on immigration, poverty, and the environment. But we have some pressing political matters to return to, and as you know, politics in America doesn’t wait long for anyone—even Your Holiness.
None of the 500 or so members of Congress who sat in the House chamber on Thursday actually said this in response to the pope’s historic address, but if actions speak louder than words, then this was their message. If Francis’s speech was a transcendent moment of comity for the nation’s bickering lawmakers, it was certainly a fleeting one.
In his speech, the pope referenced the plea he made in his encyclical and said Congress in particular had a role to play in the effort “to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” Lawmakers—mostly Democrats, but some Republicans as well—applauded heartily, but just hours later the House began consideration of legislation designed to limit environmental reviews for construction projects. Specifically, the proposal dubbed the Rapid Act would prohibit any federal agency from considering “the social cost of carbon” in deciding whether to approve a project. In other words, House Republicans would explicitly prohibit the consideration of climate change in an environmental review.