Lawmakers demand answers on chaplain firing

Lawmakers demand answers on chaplain firing
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is demanding answers from Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls On The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Nancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? MORE (R-Wis.) about why he forced House Chaplain Patrick Conroy to resign.

The group, led by Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDem on Puerto Rico and Trump: ‘God only knows’ what he'd consider a failure Congress losing faith in Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi Virginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence MORE (D-Va.), is planning to send a letter to Ryan to ask for a “description of the process followed to arrive at the decision and a justification for that decision.”

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“We believe that, absent such details, questions will inevitably arise about the politicization of the process for hiring and dismissing a House chaplain,” the lawmakers wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill. “Not revealing such details could also risk resurrecting prior questions of religious bias.”

“Absent transparency, we are also concerned about the implicit damage done to the reputation of the House chaplain personally,” the lawmakers add. “Continued silence on this matter could allow unfair and utterly unfounded inferences to be made about his character and the evenhandedness of the House on dealing in matters of faith.”

Reps. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesTrump approves North Carolina disaster declaration for Florence GOP says House votes will take place despite Hurricane Florence S.C. governor orders evacuation along state coastline MORE (R-N.C.), Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturTiming of Trump's Mexico trade deal gives Democrats an advantage Overnight Energy: Two top Pruitt aides quit | Trump offers support for Pruitt | EPA spokesman calls reporter 'a piece of trash' | Pruitt praises Chick-Fil-A as 'franchise of faith' Dems put squeeze on Ryan over chaplain controversy MORE (D-Ohio), and Carol Shea-PorterCarol Shea-PorterElection Countdown: What to watch in final primaries | Dems launch M ad buy for Senate races | Senate seats most likely to flip | Trump slump worries GOP | Koch network's new super PAC Bernie Sanders's son falls short in New Hampshire primary Chris Pappas wins Democratic House primary in New Hampshire MORE (D-N.H.) are also spearheading the effort; the letter is currently being circulated to other colleagues to collect more signatures.

The effort comes after The Hill reported on Thursday that Conroy’s retirement — announced by the Speaker’s office last week — was not voluntary, as lawmakers had initially believed.

Republican and Democratic sources say that Conroy, who has been in the role since 2011, was forced out by Ryan.

Catholic members on both sides of the aisle were furious to learn that Conroy was pushed out against his will, according to multiple sources, including one Republican lawmaker and one Democratic member.

It’s unclear exactly what led to the chaplain’s dismissal.

A Democratic lawmaker, as well as a Democratic aide, said that Conroy was ousted because he offered a prayer on the House floor that could have been perceived as being critical of the GOP tax-cut bill. 

A senior GOP aide said Conroy’s exit “was not because of any particular prayer."

Ryan, who is also Catholic, has appointed Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), an Air Force Reserve chaplain, as well as Reps. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), both former pastors, to lead the search effort to find a replacement.