Congressional leaders try to keep members from embarrassing themselves

WASHINGTON — Well, there’s one thing the two parties on Capitol Hill can agree on: Most of their members can’t be trusted to behave themselves around Pope Francis.

Each party is enlisting teams of senators and House members to take up the seats near the aisle for the pope’s Thursday-morning address to a joint meeting of Congress, so as to keep their less restrained colleagues from reaching out to touch Francis on his way to speak, Roll Call reports.

Leaders of both parties sent members a “courtesy notice,” signed by House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, saying in part, “Out of respect for the pope’s schedule and the expectation of a timely address, we respectfully request that you assist us by refraining from handshakes and conversations along and down the center aisle.”

The leaders have about as much faith as the rest of the world does that that dictum will actually be followed, particularly by some of the more publicity-hungry members. And they realize that an enormous police presence isn’t a good look.

So they’re looking for “about 50 members known for their patience and institutional good manners,” Roll Call says, to fill the three seats on either side of each aisle, wearing dark colors and modest hemlines. They also report that complete silence is expected once Francis ascends the rostrum and during his speech.

They’re also locking the doors to the cloakrooms and hallways until after Francis has appeared on the West Front balcony and left the Hill — about a half-hour.

The pope’s schedule is tight, and such measures will help keep things running smoothly, but it still has a Bieber-esque ring to it. Or, as Roll Call puts it, there’s also the desire to keep Congress from “[driving] its record-low public approval even lower by coming across as collectively preening and boorish before a global television audience.”

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