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Report: Top GOP Lawmaker Was Recorded Saying He Thought Trump Was on Putin’s Payroll

Mother Jones

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Another night, another bombshell report about President Donald Trump and Russia.

The Washington Post revealed Wednesday evening that in June 2016, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was secretly recorded telling other top Republicans that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin “pays” Trump. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who was in the room at the time, apparently ended the exchange moments later by telling those present not to leak what was said.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher R-Calif. and Trump,” McCarthy said, according to the Post, which reports that it obtained and verified a recording. (A spokeman for Rohrabacher denied the allegation; Trump has also denied any coordination with Russia.)

Spokesmen for Ryan and McCarthy told the Post that the exchange was meant as a joke, and there’s no evidence in the story that McCarthy was aware of any evidence to support the claim that Trump or Rohrabacher was on the Russian payroll. Regardless, the conversation provides some insight into what GOP congressional leaders apparently thought about candidate Trump, who by then had essentially secured the Republican presidential nomination.

The Post published this story just as news was breaking that the Department of Justice had appointed a special counsel to investigate ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.

Prior to the discussion of Trump, according to the Post, Ryan and McCarthy had met separately with the Ukrainian prime minister, with whom they had discussed Russian interference in Eastern Europe. Here’s how the Post recounted the recorded conversation, which apparently took place the day after news broke that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked:

“I’ll guarantee you that’s what it is…The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp opposition research that they had on Trump,” McCarthy said with a laugh.

Ryan asked who the Russians “delivered” the opposition research to.

“There’s…there’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, drawing some laughter.

“Swear to God,” McCarthy added.

“This is an off the record,” Ryan said.

Some lawmakers laughed at that.

“No leaks, alright?,” Ryan said, adding: “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

“That’s how you know that we’re tight,” Rep. Steve Scalise said.

“What’s said in the family stays in the family,” Ryan added.

The Post notes that it’s difficult to tell whether the remarks were “meant to be taken literally.” When initially asked about the exchange, spokesmen for Ryan and McCarthy denied that the statements had been made. After being told by the Post that there was a recording of the conversation, the spokesmen said that it was an “attempt at humor.”

When initially asked to comment on the exchange, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, said: “That never happened,” and Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy, said: “The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.”

After being told that The Post would cite a recording of the exchange, Buck, speaking for the GOP House leadership, said: “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”

“This was a failed attempt at humor,” Sparks said.

Another intriguing aspect of this story is involvement of Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and high-ranking GOP Hill staffer who ultimately entered the 2016 presidential race as an independent candidate with backing from the conservative “Never Trump” movement:

Evan McMullin, who in his role as policy director to the House Republican Conference participated in the June 15 conversation, said: “It’s true that Majority Leader McCarthy said that he thought candidate Trump was on the Kremlin’s payroll. Speaker Ryan was concerned about that leaking.”

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Report: Top GOP Lawmaker Was Recorded Saying He Thought Trump Was on Putin’s Payroll

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Watch Trump Call Obamacare Repeal "So Easy"

Mother Jones

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After a week of emergency meetings and last-minute attempts to unify their party, Republican leaders pulled their Obamacare repeal bill from the House floor Friday when it became clear they didn’t have enough support to pass.

The decision comes as a major defeat for President Donald Trump, who during the campaign bragged that Obamacare repeal would be “so easy.”

“Together we’re going to deliver real change that once again puts Americans first,” Trump said at an October rally in Florida. “That begins with immediately repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare…You’re going to have such great health care, at a tiny fraction of the cost—and it’s going to be so easy.”

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Trump also argued on the campaign trail that electing a Republican-controlled Congress would allow him to quickly dismantle the health care law and pass other pieces of legislation. “With a Republican House and Senate, we will immediately repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare,” Trump said at another event. “A Republican House and Senate can swiftly enact the other items in my contract immediately, including massive tax reduction.”

“We will repeal and replace Obamacare, and we will do it very, very quickly,” Trump said during the final week of the campaign. “It is a catastrophe.”

Trump’s confidence in his ability to win the health care fight continued through the first few weeks of his presidency. On February 9, he bragged that when it came to repealing Obamacare, “Nobody can do that like me.”

By the end of February, Trump had changed his tune somewhat. “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” the president said. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

One person who certainly did know was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who successfully shepherded Obamacare through the House in 2010. On Thursday, she mocked Trump for trying to rush the repeal bill through the chamber, calling it a “Rookie’s error.”

“Clearly you are not ready,” Pelosi said.

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Watch Trump Call Obamacare Repeal "So Easy"

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If you want fact-free speeches, Cleveland is the perfect place to go

If you want fact-free speeches, Cleveland is the perfect place to go

By on Jul 18, 2016Share

Finally! The week we’ve all been waiting for all year has arrived. No, not the world premiere of Basketball Wives: the Republican National Convention, of course, which promises to have just as much drama and back-stabbing as any reality TV show.

Along with public intellectuals like soap star Antonio Sabato, Jr. and the guy from Duck Dynasty, the convention will feature a bevy of climate change deniers and other fun conspiracy theorists. Here’s who we’ll be watching:

Facebook/Scott Baio

Scott Baio, Actor 

Best known as Chachi from the 1970s sitcom Happy Days, Baio not only believes President Obama is a Muslim who wants to “eliminate” the U.S., he also thinks the existence of snow disproves climate change.

We look forward to his thoughts on international trade, domestic security, and the Fonz.

Michael Vadon

Rick Perry, Former governor of Texas 

Referred to by Texas political insiders as “Bush, only without the brains, Perry is a flat-earther of the first degree who once called the EPA “a cemetery for jobs” and described climate science as a “contrived, phony mess.” Clearly, the smartest thing about him is those glasses.

REUTERS/Marvin Gentry

Jeff Sessions, Alabama Senator

A hardliner on immigration with a soft spot for institutional racism, Sessions is one of the most conservative members of a conservative Congress. While Sessions, naturally, doesn’t accept climate change science, he does advocate for the rights of magic. Maybe if we’re lucky he’ll saw Donald Trump in half.

Gage Skidmore

Joni Ernst, Iowa Senator

The Washington Post once called Ernst a “biscuit-baking, gun-shooting, twangy, twinkly farm girl.” What she is not, however, is a scientist. “I do believe our climate is changing,” Ernst said in 2014. “But again, I’m not sure what the impact of man is upon that climate change.” We would be more than happy to enlighten you, Senator.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)Reuters / Joshua Roberts

Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader

Human-tortoise Mitch McConnell is such a believer in democracy that he let the Senate vote on whether or not climate change is real. We look forward to his RNC address: Gravity: Let The People Decide.

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Laura Ingraham, Radio host

Ingraham primarily uses her nationally syndicated radio show to rant about abortion, human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, “radical Islam,” pornography, and her dog Lucy. Last December, however, Ingraham warned the American people about the dangers of acting on climate change, which, she said, “has everything to do with bringing America’s economy down, hurting the fossil fuel industry, etc., etc.” Maybe she’ll elaborate this week at the RNC.

Stay tuned, and you can check out Grist’s election coverage here.

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If you want fact-free speeches, Cleveland is the perfect place to go

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Deadline Looming, Senate Rescues Puerto Rico From Default

Mother Jones

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Two days before Puerto Rico was set to default on $2 billion in debt payments, the Senate staved off calamity by advancing a measure Wednesday that will allow the island to restructure its debts.

The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, known as PROMESA, now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature. It will create an independent financial oversight board that will oversee the island’s budgets and allow the Puerto Rican government to restructure its nearly $70 billion in debts with 18 different creditors. A key provision would halt all pending litigation related to the debt—there are currently 14 different lawsuits—and allow for continued funding of essential public health and safety services for the island’s 3.5 million residents.

The measure was tacked on to a bill in the Senate that will reauthorize the National Sea Grant Program through fiscal year 2021.

“Obviously, the bill isn’t perfect,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after its passage, according to the Washington Post. “But here’s why we should support it: It won’t cost taxpayers a dime; it prevents a bailout; and it offers Puerto Rico the best chance to return to financial stability and economic growth over the long term so we can help prevent another financial crisis like this in the future.”

On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to McConnell arguing that failure to pass the bill by July 1 could lead to Puerto Rico defaulting on a $2 billion debt and interest payment and a possible court order forcing the island’s government to pay creditors before providing essential services for its people. The result could have been that Puerto Rico would have stopped paying police officers and firefighters, shut down public transit, and even closed medical facilities.

The next day, Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla wrote an op-ed for CNBC and argued that there was no choice but to pass this bill. He noted that the island’s government has already cut millions in spending, eliminated thousands of public jobs, raised taxes, and withheld tax returns, and is currently $2 billion behind in payments to suppliers (in addition to the $2 billion debt payment due July 1).

“The emergency measures we have taken are unsustainable, harm our economy, reduce revenues and diminish our capacity to repay our debts,” he wrote. “Puerto Rico cannot endure any more austerity.”

The governor’s op-ed echoed many Democrats, Puerto Ricans, and observers and said the independent financial review board—which has broad powers over the island’s budget decisions and is not accountable to any local elected leaders—”unnecessarily undercuts the democratic institution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.” Democracy Now’s Juan González noted Wednesday that a majority of Puerto Ricans oppose the bill and even the concept of an independent review board.

On Tuesday, as the Senate debated the bill, Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders railed against the bill, urging his colleagues not to support it, according to the Washington Post. Sanders has opposed the bill since it was proposed in the House.

“Is this legislation smacking of the worst form of colonialism, in the sense that it takes away all of the important democratic rights of the American citizens of Puerto Rico?” he asked Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who was speaking against the bill at the time. “That basically, four Republicans who likely believe in strong austerity programs will essentially be running that island for the indefinite future?”

Here’s how the financial review board works: The president will appoint the seven-member board by September 1, choosing the members from a list of names submitted by congressional leadership. â&#128;&#139;A nominee must have a background in finance, municipal bond markets, management, law, or government operations and cannot have a primary residence or business interest on the island. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) will nominate three members; McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Obama will each nominate one. The governor of Puerto Rico, or his designee, will have a non-voting spot on the board.

The cash-strapped Puerto Rican government is responsible for coming up with the initial $2 million to establish the board—which will operate without any local oversight— and then will also be responsible figuring out its budget and permanently funding it to cover salaries for an executive director, other staff members, and overhead. The board will continue to be in charge of Puerto Rico’s financial existence until the island’s government has “adequate” access to short-term and long-term credit markets at reasonable interest rates and develops and maintains four consecutive years of on-target, board-determined budgets.

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Deadline Looming, Senate Rescues Puerto Rico From Default

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Congress Once Again Fails to Fund the Fight Against Zika

Mother Jones

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The fight against the Zika virus stalled in Congress on Tuesday when Senate Democrats blocked a Republican bill they said was stuffed with unpalatable measures, including a provision that barred Planned Parenthood from the emergency funding. With the $1.1 billion funding bill now dead in the water, lawmakers could fail to reach a compromise before they leave for a seven-week recess next month.

It has already been more than four months since President Barack Obama first submitted a request for $1.9 billion in emergency funds to combat the mosquito-borne virus, which has been linked to devastating birth defects.

Congress’ failure to respond to the crisis drew criticism Tuesday from the American Public Health Association. “We know Zika could cause hundreds of US infants to be born with preventable birth defects—if we don’t intervene,” the organization’s executive director, Georges Benjamin, said in a press release. He added that the latest bill was “both late and inadequate.” Obama criticized Congress for its lack of progress last month, saying, “They should not be going off on recess before this is done.”

The GOP bill passed the House last Thursday under unusual circumstances: The vote took place over the shouts of Democrats holding an all-night sit-in in an attempt to force a vote on gun control. Democrats sharply criticized the Zika bill for preventing emergency funding from going to the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood, a favorite target of conservatives, even though the Zika crisis affects pregnant women. They also objected to a provision weakening regulations on pesticides.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday described the bill as “nothing more than a goodie bag for the fringes of the Republican Party.” Republicans, meanwhile, blamed Democrats for the holdup. “It’s really puzzling to hear Democrats claim to be advocates for women’s health measures when they are the ones trying to block the Zika legislation,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Tuesday’s vote was 52 to 48, short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.

As the partisan squabble stretches on, the Zika crisis is only growing. The disease has spread quickly in Puerto Rico, where the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this month it could result in “dozens to hundreds of infants born with microcephaly in the coming year.” Nearly 2,000 cases have been reported in US territories, the vast majority of them contracted locally, according to the CDC. A total of 820 cases have been reported in US states. One of those was contracted in a lab; all the rest resulted from travel.

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Congress Once Again Fails to Fund the Fight Against Zika

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Sadiq Khan Makes an Impassioned Call to Reject Brexit

Mother Jones

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In the final stretch leading up to Thursday’s landmark referendum that will decide Britain’s fate as a member of the European Union, London mayor Sadiq Khan on Tuesday made a rousing speech urging voters to reject Brexit—a campaign he condemned as “project hate” against immigrants.

Khan’s sharp rhetoric was a part of BBC’s Great Debate on Tuesday, in which leading members of both sides in the campaign to determine Britain’s future in the EU made last-minute appeals to voters about whether or not Britain should retain its membership. Pro-Brexit leader and former London mayor Boris Johnson also participated in the televised debate, where he continued his calls for Britain to leave and “take back control” of its economy and its destiny. Johnson also said that if Britain were to vote in favor Britain’s departure on Thursday, it could mark the beginning of a new “independence day” for the country.

Khan and Scottish Tory Leader Ruth Davidson slammed Johnson for spreading “lies” about the cost of EU membership and using Turkey’s potential membership to fuel fears concerning terrorism and Britain’s security. They argued that contrary to those who want to leave the EU, the cost of membership does not outweigh its benefits.

Johnson, along with the the far-right political party United Kingdom Independence Party, have been criticized for employing scare-mongering tactics to convince Britons to withdraw its EU membership. UKIP leader Nigel Farage insists that his party is not racist.

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Sadiq Khan Makes an Impassioned Call to Reject Brexit

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Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison

Mother Jones

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Calling Dennis Hastert a “serial child molester,” a federal judge in Chicago today sentenced the former Republican House speaker to 15 months in prison, fined him $250,000, and ordered him to participate in a sex offender program.

Last year, Hastert pleaded guilty to a felony charge for violating federal banking laws designed to combat money laundering. The charge was related to his payment of hush money to cover up alleged sexual misconduct during his days as a gym teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in Illinois. As part of Hastert’s plea agreement, another charge for lying to the FBI about his cash withdrawals was dropped. Hastert’s plea agreement had initially suggested he could end up with six months in prison, but Judge Thomas Durkin went beyond the sentencing recommendation after a lengthy exposition on Hastert’s child sexual abuse history.

A federal grand jury indicted Hastert last May for allegedly lying to the FBI after investigators questioned him about $1.7 million in withdrawals he made that violated federal reporting requirements that guard against money laundering. The indictment alleged that Hastert was using the cash to secretly pay off “Individual A,” a man believed to be a former student at Yorkville during the time Hastert taught there, between 1965 and 1981. According to the indictment, at one point in 2014 Hastert was delivering as much as $100,000 a month to the individual in question, whom he’d promised to pay $3.5 million to prevent the man from publicly disclosing Hastert’s past alleged sexual abuse. The scheme described in the indictment is perhaps one of the most unsophisticated Washington cover-ups in recent memory. When the FBI asked Hastert about the withdrawals, he claimed he just didn’t trust the American banking system—a strange excuse for a former member of Congress turned Washington lobbyist.

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Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison

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Mitch McConnell likes procrastinating so much, he wants the whole country to do it

Mitch McConnell likes procrastinating so much, he wants the whole country to do it

By on 23 Mar 2016 11:04 amcommentsShare

The most powerful man in the Senate isn’t interested in doing his job, and he’s telling state leaders around the country: Why should you do yours?

That man would be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose steadfast refusal to consider a Supreme Court nominee until after the election gives new meaning to the word “dillydally.” Now the Kentucky Republican, in a letter published Monday to state governors, is also urging procrastination on another important issue: climate change.

McConnell is referring specifically to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which requires states to submit plans for curbing carbon pollution from power plants an average of 32 percent by 2030. It’s the centerpiece of President Obama’s climate-fighting agenda, and McConnell has been urging states to drag their heels since the EPA issued the rule a year ago, when he told them to  “just say no.”  McConnell argued that states should refuse to submit a carbon-cutting plan to the EPA as a means of protest, even though legal experts dismissed his reasoning.

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Now McConnell is emboldened by the Supreme Court’s unexpected decision in February to stay the Clean Power Plan while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decides the case. If the courts do uphold the rule, McConnell insists there is no risk for states to stop planning for implementation. “[E]ven if the CPP is ultimately upheld,” he writes to governors, “the clock would start over and your states would have ample time to formulate and submit a plan; but if the court overturns the CPP as I predict, your citizens would not be left with unnecessary economic harm.”

Legal scholars say McConnell is once again giving terrible advice. “No one knows how it’s going to play out” in the courts, New York University Institute for Policy Integrity Senior Attorney Jack Lienke (and sometime Grist contributor) told me. “All we know is the rule is stayed until this litigation is resolved, and we don’t know exactly how it’s going to be resolved.”

There’s no reason for states to assume that if they stop their work now, the “clock would start over” and their time to implement the Clean Power Plan would be extended if the rule is upheld, Lienke said. The courts could do any number of things, as could the EPA. “It is bad advice to suggest they should count on that happening. The Supreme Court orders granting the stay didn’t say anything about holding up deadlines.”

Since the Supreme Court’s stay was issued last month, 19 states have kept working toward the Clean Power Plan regs, while 19 states have halted their efforts (four states are exempt because they have so few coal-fired power plants sector). McConnell’s letter is meant to help sway the nine states still debating what to do into the procrastinator’s column.

Ironically, his advice could wind up hurting the coal-reliant states (like his home state of Kentucky) that need extra time to begin a clean-energy transition. Foot dragging might be McConnell’s speciality, but it’s no good for anything but his political machinations.

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Mitch McConnell likes procrastinating so much, he wants the whole country to do it

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Obama Says He Would Have Bombed Iran

Mother Jones

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Here’s another excerpt from Jeffrey Goldberg’s essay on President Obama’s foreign policy:

One afternoon in late January, as I was leaving the Oval Office, I mentioned to Obama a moment from an interview in 2012 when he told me that he would not allow Iran to gain possession of a nuclear weapon. “You said, ‘I’m the president of the United States, I don’t bluff.’ ”

He said, “I don’t.”

Shortly after that interview four years ago, Ehud Barak, who was then the defense minister of Israel, asked me whether I thought Obama’s no-bluff promise was itself a bluff. I answered that I found it difficult to imagine that the leader of the United States would bluff about something so consequential. But Barak’s question had stayed with me. So as I stood in the doorway with the president, I asked: “Was it a bluff?” I told him that few people now believe he actually would have attacked Iran to keep it from getting a nuclear weapon.

“That’s interesting,” he said, noncommittally.

I started to talk: “Do you—”

He interrupted. “I actually would have,” he said, meaning that he would have struck Iran’s nuclear facilities. “If I saw them break out.”

He added, “Now, the argument that can’t be resolved, because it’s entirely situational, was what constitutes them getting” the bomb. “This was the argument I was having with Bibi Netanyahu.” Netanyahu wanted Obama to prevent Iran from being capable of building a bomb, not merely from possessing a bomb.

“You were right to believe it,” the president said. And then he made his key point. “This was in the category of an American interest.”

But is he bluffing even now? We’ll probably never know.

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Obama Says He Would Have Bombed Iran

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Pope Challenges Joint Congress to Work for the "Common Good"

Mother Jones

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On Thursday, Pope Francis delivered his much anticipated speech before a joint Congress. In his remarks, which marks the first time the leader of the Catholic Church has spoken before a U.S. Congress, Francis urged lawmakers to focus on the “common good” of human society, specifically to protect vulnerable members of society and the environment.

“You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics,” Francis said. “A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.”

Francis also directly addressed the struggles of immigrants crossing the border and the current refugees crisis in Europe.

“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation,” he said.

“Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”

The Golden Rule was a theme he continued to invoke in order to underscore his positions on income inequality, abortion, and capitol punishment.

For weeks leading up to the historic speech, Francis’ address has been a point of contention for some Republicans who view his outspoken messages on combating climate change and income inequality to conflict with the party’s stance on these issues. Last week, one Catholic congressman even announced he would be boycotting the speech altogether.

Read his speech in full here.

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Pope Challenges Joint Congress to Work for the "Common Good"

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