Lawmakers explore ways to reinstate House chaplain

Lawmakers explore ways to reinstate House chaplain
© Greg Nash

A small group of lawmakers from both parties has begun exploring ways to get the ousted House chaplain reinstated, Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward Connolly'Liberated' Pelosi bashes Trump — and woos Democratic base Trump's best week ever? Trump set to confront his impeachment foes MORE (D-Va.) said Wednesday.

Over this week’s break, Connolly reached out to both his Democratic and Republican colleagues to brainstorm possible solutions to prevent Father Patrick Conroy from being forced out later this month. 

“I have been having conversations with colleagues, both on the Democratic and Republican sides, about how we get out of this mess,” Connolly told The Hill.

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Otherwise, Connolly said, “this political mistake could be a real black mark” on the House. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? Trump lashes out at Fox News coverage: 'I won every one of my debates' MORE’s (R-Wis.) decision to force Conroy to resign — which came to light after The Hill reported it last week — infuriated members in both parties and ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill.

While it’s still early in the process, Connolly said there are two potential options under consideration. 

The first idea is to push back Conroy’s resignation date, which is currently slated for May 24. Under that scenario, Ryan would have to let the House vote to amend the date on Conroy’s resignation letter so that the chaplain could finish out the rest of his term. 

The second solution would be to have Conroy revoke his resignation letter entirely, which would also require approval from the lower chamber, Connolly said.

But it’s unclear whether either idea would have the support of Ryan — or even the chaplain himself. Neither Ryan's nor Conroy’s office immediately returned a request for comment, and Connolly admitted that he didn’t know whether Conroy would even want to finish out his term.

Still, it shows that the controversy surrounding Conroy’s dismissal is not going to die down any time soon, especially as leaders are in the process of putting together a bipartisan team to find Conroy’s replacement.

Connolly, who spearheaded a bipartisan letter demanding more answers from Ryan over the ouster, said he will likely meet with lawmakers to further discuss their options when they return to Washington next week.

“The damage done among members is very substantial. There has to be some healing and some closure,” Connolly said. “And if there isn’t a mechanism [to achieve that], this remains a burning ember that could light up at anytime.”

Ryan, who is Catholic, has defended his move both publicly and privately. The Speaker said he asked for Conroy’s resignation because some Republicans complained that their “pastoral needs” were not being met. 

But some lawmakers have not been satisfied with Ryan’s explanation.

In a personal letter to Ryan on Wednesday, Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesExperts warn Georgia's new electronic voting machines vulnerable to potential intrusions, malfunctions Georgia restores 22,000 voter registrations after purge Stacey Abrams group files emergency motion to stop Georgia voting roll purge MORE (R-N.C.) called on the Speaker to reinstate Conroy and questioned whether the controversial dismissal followed proper protocols. 

Under House rules, the resignation of the chaplain is subject to approval from the chamber. But Jones pointed out in his letter that Conroy’s forced resignation letter was read on the House floor after a late-night Monday vote series when few members were present.

“After Father Conroy’s short, six-sentence letter was read, the Speaker Pro Tempore … immediately gaveled the matter to a close. From start to finish, the matter took less than a minute,” wrote Jones, a devout Catholic. “There was no objection quite simply because few members, if any, were both present on the floor and aware of the action taking place to actually voice their disapproval.” 

Democrats have also questioned whether Ryan has the power to fire the chaplain, who is elected by the House. 

But Republicans point out that Conroy offered his resignation letter — albeit after Ryan told him to do so — and it was ultimately accepted.

“Whether he had the authority or not, the chaplain tendered a resignation,” said Rep. Morgan GriffithHoward (Morgan) Morgan GriffithAbortion wars flare up in Congress Overnight Health Care: Big Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat | House panel to examine federal marijuana policies | House GOP reopens investigation into opioid manufacturers House GOP reopens investigation into opioid manufacturers over role in crisis MORE (R-Va.). “So it doesn’t really matter. The issue is moot. Case closed.”

“Had he said, ‘no, I’m not going to do that, you need to force me,' then that’s a whole other ballgame,” Griffith added. “And then we need to take a look at that.”