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Before Crowd Of Thousands, Pope Delivers Remarks On White House Lawn

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

So a little history. And for events of today, we have Don Gonyea here live in the studio now. Good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And as we speak, another meeting between a president and a pope is underway at the White House. And true to form, present-day politics are front and center, even on the South Lawn during the welcoming ceremony for the pope. For one thing, the pope brought up the topic of climate change.

GONYEA: He absolutely did.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POPE FRANCIS: I've said in the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to our future generation.

(APPLAUSE)

MONTAGNE: A problem not to be left to a future generation - that from the pope. And, Don, the president must have been happy to hear that.

GONYEA: The White House was very pleased. They have been very happy with the way this pope has talked about climate change. He issued the big encyclical. And basically, what the Pope is doing and has done, he's strongly stated that he embraces the science and said governments need to act. So it wasn't just that one statement we heard there. He said something else, which gets more specific, and even speaks more specifically to something the White House has been doing on this topic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCIS: Mr. President, I am finding it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution.

GONYEA: He says he finds it encouraging that the White House is proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. And specifically, the White House has something called a Clean Power Plan. And it would set up a rule by the EPA to reduce, lower - to lower the power sector's - power plants' emissions by 30 percent over 15 years. It is a big deal for the White House that he mentioned it.

MONTAGNE: And the White House knew that and has been laying the groundwork for this visit for months.

GONYEA: Absolutely. In January of this year, the EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, traveled to the Vatican. She met with the pope's top advisors on the topic of climate change, and they discussed it. And now, here, as the Pope comes here for this historic meeting, his first trip to the U.S., his first trip to the White House, he mentions this and endorses what the White House has been doing. And the way the White House helped lay the groundwork is the EPA administrator, once she got back, she came to the states. She met with church groups, religious leaders to talk about this subject. And there it is today on the South Lawn.

MONTAGNE: And what else did the Pope touch on? Cleary immigration, abortion.

GONYEA: Those things both came up. Abortion, obviously, is a topic where they do not - they do not agree. The Pope, despite all of his progressive and his image as a liberal pope, is still firmly opposed to abortion as Catholic dogma. But he did praise the president for working to reduce the number of abortions. They will no doubt talk about that more. On immigration, his very first words were, as the son of an immigrant family, so that was not subtle that he started his speech with that.

MONTAGNE: Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: The Pope, by the way, also said he came as a migrant to the U.S. NPR's Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.