The Pope Lays His Hand Upon American Politics, and Grown Men Cry

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Yesterday, John Boehner met the pope. Today, John Boehner announced he’s resigning. #FrancisEffect?

Russell has more:

The Irish Catholic son of a barkeep hosted Pope Francis in the first-ever address by a pontiff to Congress. And it seemed the pope’s message had at least some impact on the timing of the speaker’s decision.

Boehner said he had originally wanted to announce on November 17—his 66th birthday—that he would step down at the end of the year. But the conservative threat to depose him moved up the timetable, and when he woke up Friday on the morning after meeting the pope, he said to himself, “Today is the day I’m going to do this.”

He resisted, however, the notion that conservatives had forced his hand. “I can tell you, if I wasn’t planning on leaving here soon, I would not have done this,” Boehner said. The famously-emotional speaker broke down several times during his 15-minute news conference, most notably when he recounted a private moment he shared with Pope Francis. As they were leaving the Capitol on Thursday, the pontiff took the speaker aside and asked him to pray for him. “Who am I to pray for the pope,” a deeply-humbled Boehner told reporters. “But I did.”

A lot of folks have been asking whether Francis’s trip to the U.S., and particularly D.C., will have any political effects. Aside from John Boehner’s moment of clarity, it seems like the pope is being processed through politics as usual. Democratic presidential nominees have tried to glom on to his comments about climate change, poverty, and immigration. Congress started considering environmental legislation right after Francis’s speech, and as Russell wrote on Thursday, the process became gridlocked immediately. The holy father might be able to revive ailing infrastructure, but perhaps Washington is too far gone.

At the very least, kleptomaniac politicians enjoyed the visit. Philly News reports that Representative Bob Brady stole the pope’s drinking glass, water still in it, from the rostrum in the House chamber. He, his wife, and two staffers drank from it; Senator Bob Casey, his wife, and his mother dipped their fingers into it; and the rest will be used to “bless” Brady’s grandkids.

“Anything the pope touches becomes blessed,” Brady told the Post. “I think so and no one is going to change my mind.” In 2008, Brady also nabbed the glass Obama used at his inauguration, the Post reports.