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White House Won’t Weigh in Directly on Pope’s Call for End to Death Penalty

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"The president has noted his concerns with the way that the death penalty has been applied.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest gestures as he talks about the Islamic State group during the daily press briefing, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) AP Photo/Evan Vucci

After Pope Francis called for the “global abolition of the death penalty” in front of Congress Thursday, the White House said President Barack Obama can be “influenced” by such declarations, but had no policy position to announce.

Asked whether the president would like to see the death penalty abolished in the U.S., White House press secretary Josh Earnest didn't give a direct answer.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Earnest responded to questions regarding the government's response to the Ebola outbreak. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

“In the context of answering this question in the past, the president has noted his concerns with the way that the death penalty has been applied,” Earnest said. “There is all kinds of data that indicate there may be some racial disparities associated with the death penalty.”

Obama has been pushing for criminal justice reform, which includes lighter sentencing for nonviolent crimes, but does not address the death penalty.

“There are a variety of concerns raised by some charitable organizations that have taken up the cause of those who have been on death row who have mobilized enough evidence to actually have those individuals exonerated, and serious questions raised about those who have already been put to death,” Earnest said. “So certainly those kinds of results are troubling. I think it’s fair to say that the president’s views are influenced by statements that are made by the pope most recently but by the Catholic bishops previously. But I don’t have a new policy position on that.”

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