Politics

House Floor Erupts Over Chaplain Controversy

Democrats wanted select committee to look into firing but were voted down

The House voted on a privileged motion related to the firing of House Chaplain Patrick Conroy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The controversy over the firing of House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy made its way to the floor on Friday, as House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley offered a privileged resolution to establish a select committee to look into Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s ouster of the Jesuit priest

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., offered a motion to table the resolution, which was agreed to, 215-171, with three voting present. 

While the vote killed the resolution, Crowley told reporters afterward that he plans to continue pushing the matter until members get answers. He declined to say what options he was exploring for further probing the matter, noting that would be revealed after the House returns from a one-week recess.

Two Republicans, Reps. Tom Reed of New York and Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, joined Democrats in voting against the motion to table. GOP Reps. Dave Joyce of Ohio, Thomas J. Rooney of Florida and Scott Taylor of Virginia voted present. 

A total of 39 members — 15 Republicans and 24 Democrats — did not vote. The measure was brought up after the House had concluded its weekly legislative business, after which members typically quickly hit the exits to catch planes and trains home. 

As Crowley spoke to offer his privileged resolution, a majority of the Democratic Caucus stood behind him. Reed and Meehan walked across the aisle to stand with them.

"The lack of notification of his forced resignation, or adequate explanation provided by Speaker Paul D. Ryan is not reflective of the integrity of the House of Representatives," Crowley said, reading the resolution on the floor.

Booing, Interruptions On the House Floor After Chaplain Resignation

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, predicted before the vote that the privileged resolution would be dismissed but said she’s considering filing a discharge petition after next week’s congressional recess. She had not yet decided whether that would be on Crowley’s resolution or another related to the chaplain.

During the floor discussion, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., offered a parliamentary inquiry asking whether the speaker had the authority to dismiss the chaplain.

“The chair is not going to respond to the gentlemen’s inquiry,” Rep. Rob Woodall, who was presiding over the chamber at the time, said, noting his role was only to respond to the motion at hand.

Several Democrats do not believe Ryan had the authority under House rules to dismiss the chaplain, so he asked for his resignation, which Conroy gave. 

The chaplain is an officer of the House, a position that the full House votes on at the start of each Congress. Unlike other offices of the House, which House rules say can be removed by the full House or the speaker, there is no stated process for removing the chaplain. 

"The rights of Members of the House of Representatives were undermined when the leader of one party made a unilateral decision to dismiss the Chaplain," Crowley said in reading his resolution, adding, "This forced resignation has compromised the dignity of the House of Representatives by politicizing the office of the House Chaplain."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Friday that she expressed to the speaker her "forceful disagreement" with his decision to ask Conroy to resign. 

"It is truly sad that he made this decision, and it is especially bewildering that he did so only a matter of months before the end of his term," the California Democrat said.  "The Speaker did this knowing that he had no power to fire Father Conroy and instead chose to force him out by demanding his resignation."

Kaptur said that while Conroy did submit his resignation as requested by Ryan she believes he did so under duress and thus the validity of that action is open to question. 

"This is my words, not his, it was a forced resignation," she said. "He's a Jesuit, he's going to go by the rules." 

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