On the same day that Pope Francis spoke to thousands of people in Washington, D.C. about the need to fight poverty and climate change, Catholic presidential candidate Marco Rubio went on Fox News to explain why he disagrees with the Holy Father on the specifics of those issues.
Appearing on “Special Report,” Sen. Rubio (R-FL) told host Bret Baier that Pope Francis is “infallible” — but only on questions of morality.
“On moral issues, he speaks with incredible authority,” Rubio said. “He’s done so consistently on the value of life, on the sanctity of life, on the importance of marriage and on the family. [But] On economic issues, the pope is a person.”
Rubio then went on to argue that Pope Francis could authoritatively advocate against poverty and climate change, but that he did not have authority on the specific political solutions to those problems. Rubio cited the Holy Father’s historic criticism of capitalism, and defended capitalism as being better for the poor.
“We have the same goal — providing more prosperity and upward mobility, I just honestly believe free enterprise is a better way of doing it.”
Pope Francis might not agree that issues of poverty and economic inequality are not moral issues central to the Catholic faith. The Bible talks quite a bit about the moral necessity meeting the needs of the poor, which Pope Francis also discussed in his historic speech to Congress on Thursday.
Rubio is proposing a variety of changes to the tax code that benefit the very wealthy, including the elimination of taxes on capital gains and dividends. Rubio also wants to eliminate taxes on “pass through” corporations which are used extensively by the top 0.1% of taxpayers creating “breathtaking windfalls” for this group.
Meanwhile the “big loser” under Rubio’s plan “would be the working-poor people who feed and bathe the elderly, care for preschoolers, clean offices, and perform other essential tasks.”
Massive increases in wealth for the already rich, despite Rubio’s claims, have not proven an effective strategy in improving the lot of the poor. A comprehensive study by the International Monetary Fund released this year concluded that there is an “inverse relationship between the income share accruing to the rich (top 20 percent) and economic growth.” In other words, windfalls to the rich — as Rubio proposes — “do not trickle down.”
Rubio also said he “understands” Pope Francis’ call to fight climate change and be “stewards of the Earth,” but doesn’t believe in “big government mandates” to solve the problem of climate change. In fact, as Rubio often does, he argued that policies to fight climate change would actually harm the poor by killing jobs — something that is widely disputed, as the renewable energy sector is currently creating thousands of jobs.
Rubio failed to mention the Pope’s moral argument for fighting climate change, which is this: Though America has contributed most to climate change historically, the poorest globally are the ones who are going to suffer the most. Taking Rubio’s logic that the Pope is “infallible” on moral issues, this should mean that America is obligated to do something to help the global poor.
But Rubio has so far not taken that bait. In fact, at the most recent Republican debate, Rubio explicitly rejected the notion that America had a moral obligation to do anything about climate change. “America is not a planet,” he said.
In fact, though Rubio takes issue with being called a climate denier, he has in the past denied that climate change is a problem at all. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying,” he said back in May. “And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it.”
Rubio was not always so close with the Catholic Church. His spokesman has called him a “practicing and devout Roman Catholic” who “regularly attends Catholic Mass” and “was baptized, confirmed and married in the Roman Catholic Church.” But he has also been associated with other faiths. He was first baptized Catholic, but then baptized Mormon. Later, he attended a Baptist church, and reportedly worshiped regularly at an evangelical mega-church. He now identifies again as Catholic.