JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I’m Judy Woodruff. Gwen Ifill is away.
On the “NewsHour” tonight: pontifical politics. Pope Francis sparks a firestorm, calling Donald Trump’s immigration ideas not Christian, as the Republican front-runner fires back.
Also ahead, President Obama announces an historic trip to Cuba next month, the first for a sitting president in almost 90 years.
Then: why you should look to the political betting markets for presidential predictions.
NATALIE JACKSON, The Huffington Post: Polls show what people are thinking now, whereas the prediction markets are what people think will happen in the future.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight’s “PBS NewsHour.”
JUDY WOODRUFF: It may be unprecedented, and it lit up the presidential campaign today. A sitting pope crossed verbal swords with a candidate for president of the United States, just ahead of a crucial primary.
Our political director, Lisa Desjardins, has our report.
LISA DESJARDINS: No, this is not your typical presidential critic, definitely not your typical criticism.
POPE FRANCIS (through interpreter): A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.
LISA DESJARDINS: On his flight home from Mexico, Pope Francis directly addressed Donald Trump. The Republican front-runner has advocated building a wall along the length of the U.S.-Mexican border. And last week, he said the pope’s trip to that border was a political ploy encouraged by Mexico.
POPE FRANCIS (through interpreter): And am I a pawn? Well, maybe. I will leave that to your judgment.
LISA DESJARDINS: The pope pointedly told reporters he is not recommending how anyone votes.
In South Carolina, the candidate wasted no time in issuing his retort.
DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith, especially when they feed all sorts of false information into him.
LISA DESJARDINS: Trump quickly transformed the debate over Christian values into a fight over security.
DONALD TRUMP: If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which, as everyone knows, is ISIS’ ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president, because…
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
DONALD TRUMP: It’s true. It’s true, because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated, unlike what is happening now with our all-talk, no-action politicians.
LISA DESJARDINS: While the would-be president took on the pontiff, Marco Rubio happily joined forces with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley one day after her endorsement.
GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), South Carolina: We need to show that South Carolina makes presidents and that our next president will be Marco Rubio.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
LISA DESJARDINS: Two days before South Carolina’s primary, most non-Trump Republicans are playing it safe and sticking to stump lines. But in Greenville last night, Rubio confronted the volatile issue of racism by police and the criminal justice system.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), Republican Presidential Candidate: But whether you agree with them or not, if a significant percentage of the American family believes that they are being treated differently than everyone else, we have a problem. And we have to address it as a society and as a country, because I do not believe we can fulfill our potential as a nation unless we address that.
LISA DESJARDINS: As for the Democrats:
HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: I’m going to do everything I can so you don’t have to be scared.
LISA DESJARDINS: In a new ad, Hillary Clinton sought to reach Latino voters in Nevada by stressing her opposition to most deportations.
Bernie Sanders also was appealing to Latinos, with this ad highlighting a key endorsement before the state’s Democratic caucuses on Saturday. The two, who are currently neck and neck in the first-in-the-West contest, will take voter questions at a town hall event tonight in Las Vegas.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The pope also made headlines today on the Zika virus, suggesting that women threatened with it could use artificial contraception. Roman Catholic doctrine teaches birth control is wrong, but Francis said, under the circumstances, it might be necessary.
POPE FRANCIS (through interpreter): Avoiding a pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, it is clear. I would also exhort the doctors that they do everything they can to find vaccines and things against these mosquitoes that bring sickness.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We will take a closer look at all the pope’s statements today after the news summary.