U.S. Senators listen as Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC., Sept. 24, 2015. 
Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

2016 candidates react to Pope Francis’ speech to Congress

Updated

Pope Francis delivered a wide-ranging speech to Congress on Thursday, discussing the need to protect religious freedom, combat climate change, abolish the death penalty, embrace immigrants and defend life.

Andrea Mitchell Reports, 9/24/15, 12:34 PM ET

Sanders sides with the Pope on income inequality

Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., echoes Pope Francis’ thoughts on climate change and working together as nation facing controversial issues.
While the pontiff’s vision doesn’t line up exactly with any of the 2016 presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike focused on what common ground they do share with Francis following his address.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, for example, sided with the pope on income inequality, a cornerstone of his own campaign. The Vermont senator was particular pleased that Francis referenced Dorothy Day, a founder of the Catholic Worker movement who fought for social justice for those living in poverty.

“In citing Dorothy Day, the pope gave us a wonderful example of the never-ending struggle for justice in our country and the world,” said Sanders in a statement. He also tweeted, “The pope is right in saying all of us must address the grotesque income and wealth inequality we are seeing through the world.”

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton also lauded the pope’s remarks on ending inequality, in addition to his repeated calls to fight climate change. “Thank you, @Pontifex. We have much to do to care for our planet, strengthen economic opportunity, and defend the rights & dignity of all,” the former secretary of state tweeted.

As with his views on climate change, the pope has parted ways from his predecessors on several issues. In 2013, he asked “Who am I to judge?” with reference to gay people—although he has yet to take any specific action on the matter. Last month, he broke rhetorically from traditional Catholic teachings, declaring the church should do more to embrace those who follow religion but decide to divorce and remarry.

RELATED: First Latino Pope brings hope to Spanish Harlem

Republican presidential candidates also weighed in on the pope’s speech. Jeb Bush, a Catholic who disagrees with the pope on issues like climate change and capitalism, said he liked how the pope urged lawmakers to work together for the greater good. “Grateful for the inspiring words of @pontifex. People of good will must work together to advance the common good,” the former Florida governor tweeted.

Similarly, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida released a statement saying the pope “reminded us that, whatever our policy differences might be, we are all called to put the good of our people above all.”

And retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson said his big takeaway was that “we as a nation still value faith.” He added, “That’s the bottom line. And when you see this amount of attention for a man of faith that is something that should be encouraging for all of us.”

One candidate who took issue with a specific aspect of the pope’s speech was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who said he was vehemently opposed to Francis’ call to abolish the death penalty. 

RELATED: Pope speaks out against death penalty

“I spent a number of years in law enforcement dealing with some of the worst criminals, child rapists and murderers, people who’ve committed unspeakable acts,” Cruz told Politico after the speech. “I believe the death penalty is a recognition of the preciousness of human life, that for the most egregious crimes, the ultimate punishment should apply.”

Pope Francis

2016 candidates react to Pope Francis' speech to Congress

Updated