Others found it hard to contain their emotions. “I'm overwhelmed,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez. “I think he did a wonderful job, and I'm so happy at all of the core issues he touched on. I've been here 23 years, I've been to a couple dozen joint sessions of Congress, and no one's ever brought me to tears [before].”
“There's something there for everybody,” said Rep. James Clyburn, voicing a sentiment echoed by more than one member. “It was a very genuine speech.”
Some Republicans, meanwhile, were less than pleased with what Francis chose to emphasize.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said he was "taken aback" by how little the pope talked about abortion. "He spent a lot of time talking about the death penalty, but very little time talking about protecting innocent life," he said.
But House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was less concerned about individual elements of the speech.
“The pope’s message transcends politics. I think he spoke to Catholics around the world, and touched on a lot of issues that are important to our faith,” Scalise said.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving Catholic in Congress, and, like Francis, a son of Italian immigrants, was pleased with what he heard. “He spoke to our sense of humanity,” Leahy said. “It was not a Catholic or non-Catholic speech. It was, 'Remember who you are as people.'” Leahy didn’t miss the opportunity to take a shot at Republicans. “This country would be a lot different if we slammed our doors shut the way some people wanted today,” he said.
Leahy wasn’t the only Democrat to praise the pope’s message on immigration. “It's a big issue to him,” said Rep. Marc Veasey, who had urged the pope to talk about the issue. “Poverty, too, which plays into immigration. One of the things that I've been talking about is one of the key components to addressing immigration has to be how well our neighbors are doing to the south. We need a strong Central America, we need a strong Mexico, in order to really help with the issue of immigration and also making opportunities more readily available in those countries. ... He got to it.”
On the environment, as well, Democrats called the pope’s speech an important reminder of one of their key priorities. “His reference to our home and the needs that we face to redirect technology and our economy, to address the harm that we are doing to the environment, I think simply continued the very strong remarks he made yesterday on climate change,” said Sen. Christopher Coons.
“He was referring partly to protecting nature,” Schakowsky added. Still, like most Democrats, she made certain to avoid characterizing the pope’s political alignment. “I felt it was a speech that his goal was to bring people together for the sake of humanity. … There certainly was a lot of bipartisan enthusiasm for this pope.”