President Joe Biden offered an emotional account of his relationship with Pope Francis on Sunday during a press conference, choking up as he described how the pontiff had become a friend and offered comfort when his son died.
‘Pope Francis has become,’ he said, pausing to collect his thoughts, ‘I don’t want to exaggerate – has become a someone who’s provided a great solace for my family when my son died.’
After a day of grand international diplomacy to tackle climate change and snarled supply chains, Biden came close to tears as he talked about meeting Francis in the days after his son’s death.
‘There were an awful lot of people who – many of you who are even in the press – who went out of your way to express your empathy and sympathy when I lost a real part of my soul,’ he said, his voice halting.
‘When I lost my Beau, my son.
‘I … my family will never forget … my extended family, because it was only a matter of days since my son had passed away and Pope Francis came to the United States.’
Before he left the country, continued Biden, the pope asked if he could meet his family and spent more than 10 minutes talking to them about Beau in a hangar at Philadelphia airport.
President Joe Biden appeared to come close to tears as he talked about his relationship with Pope Francis and the way the pope had comforted his family after the death of his son Beau
Biden addressed a press conference at the end of the G20 summit in Rome. He talked about climate change and his domestic legislative agenda but things took a deeply personal turn when he was asked about his meeting with the pope on Friday
Biden spent 75 minutes with the pope on Friday for a private audience at the Vatican
‘He knew who he was,’ said Biden, who is only the second Catholic president in U.S. history.
‘He knew where he went to school. He knew what a man he was, and it had such a cathartic impact on his children and my wife and our family that it meant a great deal.’
The G20 represents Biden’s debut as president at a major global summit after being sworn in during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For a leader who has staked his position to his ability to build consensus, it was a first chance to shake hands and look fellow leaders in the eye.
‘What we’ve seen again here in Rome is what I think is the power of America showing up and working with our allies and partners to make progress in issues that matter to all of us,’ he said, adding that allies wanted ‘American leadership’ to get things done.
He claimed other leaders sought him out as he fended off a question about whether he could provide leadership amid falling poll numbers at home.
‘The United States of America is the most critical part of this entire agenda, and we did it,’ Biden said.
Biden is due to Scotland on Monday morning for a United Nations climate conference. Heads of state will push to keep carbon emissions down to a level needed to limit global temperature increases to 1.5C.
But amid all the summitry, Biden’s relationship with the pope has been one of the talking points of his trip to Rome.
And his tribute to Francis was triggered by a question about abortion.
Biden had a papal audience on Friday at a time when the president is under intense pressure from conservative Catholics on the issue. They want him to take a tougher stance on abortion or be banned from taking Communion.
After their meeting the president said the pope told him he was a ‘good Catholic’ and that the two men did not discuss the issue during their 75-minute sit down at the Vatican.
‘We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving communion,’ Biden said.
On Sunday, he said the pope was a man of understanding and who avoided judgment.
‘This is a man who has great empathy,’ he said.
‘He is a man who understands that part of his Christianity is to reach out and to forgive.
‘And so I just find my relationship with him one that I personally take great solace in he is a really, truly genuine decent man.’
The U.S. Conference of Bishops is weighing whether to admonish Catholic politicians like Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who support a woman’s right to an abortion – which Catholics consider a sin – yet also take Holy Communion at mass.
After their meeting the president said the pope told him he was a ‘good Catholic’ and that the two men did not discuss the issue of abortion during their private meeting
Earlier Biden met with EU reps and leaders from 14 countries on supply chain problems
Jill Biden made a surprise visit to thee Borghese Gallery and Museum on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome on Sunday afternoon
Conservatives also take a dim view of Francis himself, for his positions on climate change and social justice.
Biden said he did not take communion during the meeting on Friday.
And he declined to say whether he and Pope Francis discussed the U.S. Conference of Bishops, saying that’s a ‘private conversation.’
And he revealed Pope Francis blessed his son Beau’s rosary beads that he wears around his wrist.
At the press conference, Biden admitted that he didn’t know his remarks presenting the pope with a command coin had been captured.
‘I didn’t realize you all were able to film what I was doing with the Pope when I gave him a command coin,’ Biden said Sunday.
On Friday, standing next to the pope, Biden was seen saying: ‘I’m not sure this is appropriate, but there’s a tradition in America. That the president has what is called a command coin.’
Biden said it was meant for ‘warriors and leaders.’
‘And you are the most significant warrior for peace I’ve ever met,’ Biden told the pope.
Biden arrived nearly an hour late to the press conference – the last item on his agenda in Rome.
‘We were playing with elevators,’ he said to excuse his tardiness. ‘Long story anyway, good evening.’
During the 26-minute press conference he expressed regret that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping didn’t attend the Rome gathering in person – after some climate activists called the G20 commitments on climate change underwhelming.
‘The disappointment relates to the fact that Russia and … China, basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change,’ Biden said. ‘And there’s a reason why people should be disappointed in that.
‘I found it disappointing myself.’
He also expressed optimism that the two pieces of his agenda – stuck in Congress thanks to his own party – would make it into law.
‘I believe we will pass my Build Back Better plan and I believe we will pass the infrastructure bill,’ Biden said.
‘But we’ll see. We’ll see,’ he continued
‘You know, you’ve all believed it wouldn’t happen from the very beginning of the moment I announced it, and you always seem amazed when it’s alive again,’ he told the reporters in the room. ‘
‘Well, you may turn out to be right. Maybe it won’t work.
‘But I believe we’ll see by the end of next week at home that it’s passed.’
As he exited the hall, NBC’s Peter Alexander asked him to give those in the room a thumbs up if he had commitments from Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema – the two moderates who are holding up the Build Back Better bill.
Biden waved as he departed – but it was unclear if his thumb was raised.
Shortly after, deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre played clean-up.
‘As the President said during the press conference, he is confident we are going to get this done and the thumbs up was simply a visual restatement of that,’ she said.
Earlier Biden announced that new U.S. and European Union trade deal would tackle ‘dirty steel’ that produces carbon emissions, outlined action to tackle supply chain problems, and met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an effort to ease strained relations between the NATO allies.
Mario Draghi, Italian prime minister and summit host, declared the weekend to be ‘a success,’ adding that this year felt different to previous meetings when leaders found it hard to agree.
‘Something changed,’ he said.
But for all the warm words the G20 leaders failed to make concrete commitments to key climate targets such as reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
‘We recognize that the impacts of climate change at 1.5 degrees Celsius are much lower than at 2 degrees Celsius. Keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach will require meaningful and effective actions and commitment by all countries,’ was the best they could manage in their joint statement.
During the day he hosted a side event with the European Union and other countries to strengthen supply chains.
He announced he would issue an executive order authorizing the Pentagon to more rapidly release items from the National Defense Stockpile
‘Supply chain is something that most of our citizens never think twice about unless something goes wrong,’ he said.
‘And during this pandemic, we’ve seen delays and backlogs of goods.’