Political News

Lawmakers push for Ryan to keep House chaplain he asked to resign

Posted May 2, 2018 3:50 p.m. EDT
Updated May 2, 2018 6:47 p.m. EDT

— Lawmakers from both parties are lobbying House Speaker Paul Ryan to take steps to rescind his request that the House chaplain resign, a week after news of the Wisconsin Republican's call for the Rev. Pat Conroy to step down became public.

Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina asked Ryan to reinstate Conroy, saying in a letter he believes the way the House chaplain was let go reflected "poorly on the House" and appears "intentionally underhanded."

"Not only was I dismayed that Father Conroy was apparently asked to resign without explanation, I was troubled by the manner in which it was done. All members were not asked for their opinions on the chaplain's performance," Jones said in the letter. "Instead, it appears a decision to push him out was made behind closed doors based on the input of only a few."

The letter continued: "It appears the decision was made to minimize the input of members, and executed surreptitiously to overcome what was likely to be their overwhelming objection. It appears intentionally underhanded, and that is deeply disappointing!"

Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, who like Ryan is Catholic, said in a phone interview with CNN on Wednesday that he's part of informal discussions between about a dozen Democrats and Republicans, including members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, who are looking at options to bring back Conroy.

Conroy, a Jesuit priest, resigned April 15 after he spent nearly seven years praying at the outset of House sessions. He wrote two versions of his resignation letter, which were both obtained by CNN from a congressional source. In the first version, he wrote that Ryan should consult with his chief of staff on a resignation date, but the second version stated his last day would be May 24.

Connolly said a popular option among the group is to find a way to revoke the letter of resignation and get Ryan to agree to a different resignation date of January 3, 2019 -- the end date of the current Congress and Conroy's term.

It's not immediately clear why Conroy was asked to resign.

CNN reported last week that Ryan requested the House chaplain resign from his post earlier this month, and several prominent Democratic lawmakers -- and some Republicans -- want more information as to why the priest was asked to step down.

According to a person who attended last week's GOP conference meeting, the speaker explained that he asked Conroy to resign "based on member feedback about pastoral care."

A separate GOP member who attended the meeting said Ryan "didn't say this as bluntly but the reason for the change is that many of us like Father Conroy but we feel like he didn't do anything. We never see him. We never hear from him. We'd like to have a more active priest/pastor."

In the meantime, a committee of Democrats and Republicans would search for a chaplain, and Conroy could be considered a candidate in that search.

"That would restore his dignity and, frankly, the dignity of the House," Connolly said.

The bipartisan discussions on keeping Conroy were first reported by the Huffington Post.

While they haven't approached GOP leadership yet, Connolly said he has informed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of their conversations.

Once Congress returns from recess next week, Connolly said, the group will discuss next steps.