Papal Diplomacy

(NBC News) Early this morning, President Obama sits down with Pope Francis. He’s the ninth U.S. President to make an official visit to the Vatican.

He met Pope Benedict there in 2009, but in 2009, the President was still riding a wave of popularity. Not so this time.

If the President is looking to gain some political capitol on this trip, this could be it. A new Associated Press poll gives him low marks for handling Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Today’s meeting gives Mr. Obama an opportunity to shift focus.

Amid tight security, President Obama arrives in Rome seeking common ground with an immensely popular Pope Francis.

Their historic meeting this morning at the Vatican could highlight areas where they agree – like fighting inequality

And areas of disagreement: the Obamacare free birth control mandate, argued this week at the u-s supreme court.

Two world leaders, with very different public perceptions: Pope Francis – the most popular figure in our latest NBC wall street journal poll, and President Obama, who’s poll numbers hit a personal low.

This week in Europe, he’s been dealing with the crisis in Ukraine after dismissing Russia as just a regional power…

Last night in Brussels, President Obama softened his tone a bit: “The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia,” said The President.

Back home, Republicans think promising more sanctions only if Russia goes further into Ukraine is the wrong approach. “How does Vladmir Putin read that statement from the President of the United States? He reads, saying we got away with it,” said Senator John McCain, (R) Arizona.

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