If there’s one thing everyone on the Hill can agree on, it’s that Pope Francis has a mind of his own. And if there’s a second thing, it’s that—in theory—Thursday’s congressional address should not be a political event, even if it just happens to fall on the same day as a vote on a short-term spending bill that defunds Planned Parenthood.
While no one in Congress knows what the pope will say, it is almost certain that if he does bring up abortion, it will be taken by some lawmakers as fuel to further intensify debate over Planned Parenthood.
“I think it’s inevitable he will probably say something. The degree to which he does—that will be what’s significant,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed a continuing resolution Tuesday, and the vote will be held Thursday afternoon. Democrats will almost certainly block the measure, and then both chambers will have less than a week to pass a spending bill that keeps the government running beyond Sept. 30. The House Freedom Caucus and Sen. Ted Cruz strongly oppose any spending bill that continues to give federal funding to Planned Parenthood, even if that leads to a government shutdown.
But only a couple of hours before the vote, members will listen to a pope address Congress for the first time. Few lawmakers want to speculate on what he’ll bring up, although if he touches the subject of abortion it’s more likely to benefit the GOP, which has recently voted on several abortion restriction bills in both chambers. Even fewer want to speculate about the politics of the pope bringing up abortion before anyone knows if it will even happen.