Filling in for Chris Matthews on Hardball tonight, NBC's Chuck Todd noted at the open of the program that Pope Francis's U.S. visit would likely yield moments where he speak out to the discomfit of both Republicans and Democrats on certain policy issues. Yet Todd himself didn't seek the emulate such balance when he interviewed Catholic senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
While Hoeven was pressed on how Republicans might be challenged to move leftward on "climate change" and "income inequality" in light of Pope Francis's views on the matter, Cantwell was spared for any grilling about her steadfast opposition to banning abortion after 20 weeks' gestation or ending federal funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest chain of abortion providers.
Here is the transcript for the interviews with Cantwell and Hoeven (emphasis mine):
Sept. 22, 2015
7:20 p.m. Eastern
CHUCK TODD: Let me just ask you, personally, I plan to ask the same question to [Sen. Hoeven] what does this pope's visit mean to you? What does this pope mean to you? Maybe differently than previous popes or not.
Sen. MARIA CANTWELL: Well, I just want to point out, I was raised in a catholic family. What I really like about this pope, though, is his Jesuit background. The Jesuits taking a pledge to focus on the poor and the less fortunate in our society. And I think that that's what we've seen from this pope already. And one thing I like is he's also talked about our planet. And what we need to do to protect our planet and mother Earth.
TODD: What do you hope to hear from him when he addresses Congress?
CANTWELL: Well, I think, you know, he's been outspoken on some of these issues about the impoverished and challenged. Everything from immigration to making sure, but I think this notion of thinking that we all need to work together to reduce CO2, that there are countries around the globe that basically are feeling the brunt of this, and have very little ability to deal with it, so, countries like the United States and China, taking on this issue, like we did in this energy bill today, saying, this is the way we can move forward on clean energy.
So, you know, I don't expect the pope to, you know, endorse legislation, but I do expect him to help change minds about this issue.
TODD: Today, there was a vote on an abortion bill that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks. Explain why you voted against it?
CANTWELL: Well, this is an issue that is between a woman and her doctor. And I think we have now had so many votes on the issue to defund Planned Parenthood and every time we get close to a government shutdown, so this particular proposal, I want the choices of a woman's health to be between her and her doctor.
TODD: And what do you say -- and I say this -- I bring it up, but obviously, this is a case where perhaps you don't agree with the pope on this issue. And he may talk about this as well in front of Congress. What do you -- how do you address that, as a Catholic?
CANTWELL: This pope has made some statements showing great compassion on this issue of late. And I respect that. And, so, I don't know what he'll be addressing, as far as Congress is concerned. But I think that the American people, just as they support moving forward on a cleaner energy strategy, even after all of this discussion, still support Planned Parenthood and think that women should have access to health care. And I think they're probably a little tired of people shutting down government or saying we can't move forward unless we defund Planned Parenthood.
TODD: All right. Senator Cantwell, I'm going to leave it there. Senator, thanks for joining us on Hardball. Now I want to turn to the other side of the aisle, Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, he is a practicing Roman Catholic, let me start with the same question I asked Sen. Cantwell, what does this visit mean to you. What does this new pope mean to you?
Sen. JOHN HOEVEN: Well, Chuck, it's historic. I think it's inspirational and we welcome him not only to Congress, but to our country. And again, I hope that people will use this as an opportunity to really come together in many different ways. But I think it's inspirational and I'm very much looking forward to it.
TODD: Well, he's going to have -- you heard Senator Cantwell, I think Democrats hope that the message of climate change is something that Republicans embrace more. His message on climate change, what do you make of it? And has it made you take a second look at some of his thoughts and when it comes to, maybe, your faith and the environment?
HOEVEN: Well, I think we have differences of opinion in regard to climate change. The real issue, though, is what you do about not only producing energy in this country, but better environmental stewardship. And I work all the time on encouraging and finding ways to advance the investments that will help us deploy the new technologies that not only produce more energy, but do it with better environmental stewardship.
TODD: Do you believe his message on income inequality, is that something that you think, you know what maybe we ought to address this differently? Does that have an impact? I mean, we know on social issues in the past, many Republicans have wanted the pope to have an impact. What about on some of these economic issues?
HOEVEN: Right, Chuck, I think that's a really good point. That's why I say, I hope it helps bring people together. I think we all want to help our fellow man. The issue is the underlying philosophy on how best to do it. And again, I think that's where we can come together, with, I hope, good ideas that we can reach some consensus on and do what will help advance some of the things that the American people want us to address in a way that's productive.
TODD: All right. We're going to have this moment of comity on Thursday, where everybody's going to come together and I think it's going to be one of those non-partisan or bipartisan moments that makes us all feel good, makes you guys in Congress feel good.
He leaves and you guys are going to be fighting about whether to keep the government open. It's pretty clear, the Senate's going to send a message that they're not going to be able to shut down or defund Planned Parenthood, the way it's going to work. What is your message to House Republicans once you send over legislation that won't have defunding of Planned Parenthood? What is your message to them? Should they keep fighting this? Is it worth shutting the government down over?
HOEVEN: Chuck, in fairness, I think you have to look at what we're trying to do. The legislation that we're advancing provides the funding for women's health care. It's just that it provides it to community health centers rather than to Planned Parenthood. And I think that's what's getting lost in this debate. And I hope that people will focus on it and see that we're providing the full amount of resources to health centers for women's health.
So, we're making sure that women's health is addressed. And I think that needs to be the focus, rather than jumping right by that and somehow saying, it's shutting down government.
TODD: Well, I understand that, but it's not going to get through the Senate. I mean, Mitch McConnell has basically already said that. I know you guys are going to have the vote, do your best to get it. But, if this fight over -- is this fight over Planned Parenthood worth shutting down the government over?
HOEVEN: I think that this is a debate that's going to continue, and I think if we look at the underlying effort, and that is that we are funding women's health, and I think long-term, we can win on this -- on the merits.
TODD: You said long-term, but is it worth having this shutdown showdown?
HOEVEN: You know, again, I don't think that we're going to get into a government shutdown. But I still think we have to focus on the matter at hand. And that is not -- making sure that we're not having government funding of abortion, but still funding women's health.
TODD: All right. Senator Hoeven, I'll leave it there. I think I got you, I think you're saying it's not worth shutting the government down over. Is that a fair characterization?
HOEVEN: We are trying to make sure the government is funded, but that the government is not funding abortion.
TODD: Fair enough. Senator Hoeven, and before that, Senator Cantwell, thank you both for coming on today. Appreciate it.