Lawmakers demand answers from Speaker Paul Ryan over House chaplain's ouster

WASHINGTON — Furor grew on Capitol Hill Friday over Speaker Paul Ryan's decision to oust the chaplain of the House of Representatives, with Democrats and others supportive of the Jesuit priest demanding further answers regarding the speaker's motivation.

“He just said that there was dissatisfaction among members with Father Conroy. And that was it,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., after a closed-door conference meeting Friday with House Republicans in which Ryan addressed the Rev. Patrick Conroy's resignation. “I think we deserve more of an explanation on why.”

King added, "The speaker said it was just because certain people thought he was not compliant with their requests, or not giving good counsel. I never heard that."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also said Friday she had never received a complaint about Conroy, telling NBC News that Ryan "did a very bad thing" in forcing the House chaplain of the last seven years to resign.

Ryan said it was "because the chaplain is not administering to the pastoral needs of the Congress," Pelosi said. "It can wait until next year and then have a new chaplain. You’re touching a very bad nerve here. This is about faith. This is about freedom of speech. It's about the regular order."

Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Thursday, "The speaker consulted with the minority leader, but the decision was his. He remains grateful for Father Conroy's service."

More on Father Conroy:

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Rev. Patrick Conroy as chaplain of the House
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Rev. Patrick Conroy as chaplain of the House
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 14: House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy, Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., center, and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., attend a swearing-in ceremony for the new Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, September 14, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Patrick Conroy, Chaplain of the House of Representatives, leads Democrats and Republicans in prayer before they face off in the annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
UNITED STATES - MARCH 07: Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., right, check on judges former Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn., left, and House Chaplain Patrick Conroy during the second annual 'hotdish' competition in the Capitol Visitor Center, featuring casserole-like dishes from members of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation. The dishes of Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., tied for first place in the competition. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES ? SEPTEMBER 12: Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, and Reverend Patrick J. Conroy, Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, members of both houses of Congress down the East Front steps of the Capitol to hold a 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony on Monday, Sept. 12, 2011. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 11: Reverend Patrick J. Conroy, Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, speaks on the East Front steps of the Capitol during the 9/11 Congressional Remembrance Ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 11: From left, Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., join members of Congress on the east steps of the Capitol during the 9-11 Remembrance Ceremony on on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 11: Rev. Patrick Conroy, Chaplain of the House, attends the 2013 National Days of Remembrance ceremony in the Capitol rotunda to honor the victims of the Holocaust. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 21: Chris Martin with other NAMM members meet with Rep. Matt Cartwright(D-PA), Father Patrick J. Conroy and Rep. Joseph Crowley(D-NY) on the steps of the capitol during NAMM D.C. Fly-in at the US Capitol on May 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for NAMM)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 21: Chris Martin with other NAMM members meet with Rep. Matt Cartwright(D-PA), Father Patrick J. Conroy and Rep. Joseph Crowley(D-NY) on the steps of the capitol during NAMM D.C. Fly-in at the US Capitol on May 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for NAMM)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 4: Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, left, and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., walk up the House steps as members of Congress arrive for votes in the Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 13: Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., center, is consoled by Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, Father Patrick J. Conroy, left, as Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., looks on at conclusion of the vigil and moment of silence on U.S. Capitol Steps on Monday, June 13, 2016, in remembrance of victims of the Orlando shooting. The event was held by the LGBT Congressional Staff Association and the Congressional Muslim Staff Association. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 18: Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, blesses the walnut tree during the tree planting ceremony in memory of Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 18: From left, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Daniel Secatore, grandson of Louise Slaughter, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, pose shoveling dirt during the walnut tree planting ceremony in memory of Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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Before the House left Washington Friday for a week-long recess, a large group of House Democrats gathered on the floor of the chamber behind Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, who offered a resolution that would have established a select committee to investigate Ryan's motivation for the ouster.

Two House Republicans — Reps. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania and Tom Reed of New York — stood with the Democrats. Republicans immediately killed the effort, however, in a floor vote to table the resolution.

Meanwhile, at least 148 members sent a letter Ryan requesting more information.

"The sensitive nature of this situation requires a description of the process followed to arrive at the decision and a justification for that decision," said the letter, spearheaded by Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Walter Jones, R-N.C., Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and Carol Shea Porter, D-N.H. "We believe that, absent such details, questions will inevitably arise about the politicization of the process for hiring and dismissing a House chaplain. Not revealing such details could also risk resurrecting prior questions of religious bias."

Kaptur said Ryan didn't have the authority to force out Conroy.

"It is not the speaker's prerogative to terminate an officer of the House without a vote of the House," she told reporters Friday.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., have been tasked with finding Conroy's replacement, Kaptur added.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-Ala., chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told reporters he had heard of some members who took issue with Conroy.

"I cannot give you any information on what the issue was. The only that we know is that members went to Speaker Ryan with concerns about Father Conroy," he said.

He suggested Friday that he would prefer that the next chaplain have experience ministering to families.

“Having spent 16 years in ministry as a pastor, there are things that you are able to understand that families go through in dealing with. It doesn’t mean you have to have to have your own," he said.

On Thursday, Conroy's resignation letter from April 15 surfaced, which made clear that Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, had asked him to resign — a move that's angered Democrats and other supporters of the priest.

"I’m very sorry Father Conroy was forced to resign as a House Chaplain. He is a good man. No explanation and no consultation," tweeted Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of the few Muslim lawmakers, on Friday.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., called it a "shameful anti-Catholic move motivated by conservative extremists in Congress."

Conroy, whose last day as chaplain is May 24, said Thursday in an interview with The New York Times that he doesn’t know why he was asked to step aside.

“I was asked to resign, that is clear," Conroy said. Asked why, however, he said, "that is unclear," adding that "Catholic members on both sides are furious."

When Ryan gave Pelosi advance notice about Conroy's departure, she made it clear that she disagreed with the speaker and that she had had only received positive feedback about Conroy's service, a Pelosi aide said.

Conroy has been blunt in some of his remarks, including a prayer about the GOP tax bill that he offered on the House floor on Nov. 6, 2017, before the legislation was passed and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Conroy has been blunt in some of his remarks, including a prayer about the GOP tax bill that he offered on the House floor on Nov. 6, 2017, before the legislation was passed and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

"As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, may all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle," Conroy said.

Conroy told The Times that a week later, someone from the Speaker's office came to see him.

"A staffer came down and said, 'We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political," he said. "It suggests to me that there are members who have talked to him about being upset with that prayer."

Later, Conroy said, Ryan told him, "Padre, you just got to stay out of politics."

Related: Paul Ryan's career in politics

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Paul Ryan through his career
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Paul Ryan through his career
Speaker of the House Denis Hastert (L) administers the oath of office to Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin as his family looks on January 6, 1999 at the start of the 106th Congress. The oath is a recreation as the formal oath is administered to the entire congress as a body on the floor of the House. (photo by Rex Banner)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 12: Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks at a news conference in which House Republican leaders called for Permanent Tax Relief. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)
KRT US NEWS STORY SLUGGED: SOCIALSECURITY-DISCUSSION KRT PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE BRIDGES/KRT (April 14) Conversation on Social Security between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), shown, and William Novelli, head of AARP, April 5, 2005 (lde) 2005 (Photo by George Bridges/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 22: MEDICARE BRIEFING--Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., speaks at a Cato Institute briefing on Medicare reform in the Rayburn House Office Building. Tom Miller, director of Health Policy Studies at Cato, looks on. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) questions Peter Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, during a hearing on Capitol Hill about the impact of recent market turmoil on the federal budget on September 24, 2008 in Washington, DC. Orszag reported that while the impact is currently unknown, it is likely to be substantially less than $700 billion. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - APRIL 27: House Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) delivers an opening statement during a conference committee meeting with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) (L) and House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) in the U.S. Capitol April 27, 2009 in Washington, DC. House and Senate lawmakers have already struck a tentative deal on the FY2010 budget resolution and they hope to file a conference report after today's meeting. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 19: (L-R) U.S. House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) listen during a news conference on the health care legislation March 19, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The House will vote on the Health Care Reform Legislation on Sunday, March 21. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Budget Committee, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. U.S. House Republicans today unveiled a plan to overhaul the federal budget and slash the deficit in coming years by about three-quarters, with a $6-trillion cut in spending and 25 percent cap on tax rates. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) left, and moderator David Gregory, right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, April 10, 2011. (Photo by William B. Plowman/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 01: Republican Presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) jokes with U.S. Rep Paul Ryan (C) (R-WI) during a pancake brunch at Bluemound Gardens on April 1, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With less than a week before the Wisconsin primary, Mitt Romney continues to campaign through the state. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 26: House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is introduced before speaking about 'America's Enduring Promise,' and the federal budget, in a speech at Georgetown University April 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. During his speech, Ryan said that his proposed budget confronts the nation's growing $15 trillion debt before it impacts future generations of Americans. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
NORFOLK, VA - AUGUST 11: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) jokes with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) after announcing him as the 'next PRESIDENT of the United States' during an event announcing him as his running mate in front of the USS Wisconsin August 11, 2012 in Norfolk, Virginia. Ryan, a seven term congressman, is Chairman of the House Budget Committee and provides a strong contrast to the Obama administration on fiscal policy. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 14: Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Vice Presidential candidate, waves to the crowd after addressing the Values Voter Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Woodley Park. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
NEWPORT NEWS, VA - SEPTEMBER 18: Republican vice presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), pauses as he speaks during a campaign rally at Christopher Newport University September 18, 2012 in Newport News, Virginia. Ryan continued to campaign for the upcoming presidential election. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 22: Republican vice presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) hugs waitress, Lourdes Alcerro, during a campaign stop at Versailles restaurant in the Little Havana neighborhood on September 22, 2012 in Miami, Florida. Ryan continues to campaign for votes across the country. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R) and running-mate Paul Ryan share a laugh as they are introduced at a campaign rally September 25, 2012 at Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, Ohio. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)
Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, arrives at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Ryan said he'd be willing to run for speaker of the U.S. House if Republicans unify behind him now, end leadership crises and let him continue spending time with his family. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, center right, walks down the steps of the U.S. Capitol building following a vote in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. Ryan is under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans to run for U.S. House speaker after a hard-line faction forced Speaker John Boehner to resign and his top lieutenant to drop out of the race. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, walks to a meeting in the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Ryan is set to meet with a group of House conservatives Tuesday as he weighs a potential run to replace Speaker John Boehner under pressure from fellow Republicans. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, center, talks to the media after walking out of the U.S. Capitol building following a vote in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. Ryan is under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans to run for U.S. House speaker after a hard-line faction forced Speaker John Boehner to resign and his top lieutenant to drop out of the race. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 20 - Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks at a news conference following a House Republican meeting, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. Ryan is stating that he will run for speaker only if he receives enough GOP support by the end of the week. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, awaits the arrival of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin for a meeting at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, December 10, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB / AFP / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 10: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill on December 10, 2015 in Washington, D.C. Paul Ryan spoke on topics including Donald Trump and the spending bill. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, (R-WI) speaks during a Politico interview at the Grand Hyatt on December 15, 2015 in Washington DC. Ryan was interviewed by Politico's Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen during a Politico Playbook Breakfast. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L) holds ceremonial swearing-in for Representative-elect Ralph Norman (R-SC) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks after Senate Republicans unveiled their version of legislation that would replace Obamacare on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan introduces his new tax policy at the National Association of Manufacturers Summit in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan visits members of the Republican team prior to the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the press about President Donald Trump, former FBI Director James Comey and Russia investigations as Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) looks on after a closed meeting of the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) listens as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with members of the Republican Congressional leadership at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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King said Friday that Ryan denied that the tax prayer was the reason for Conroy’s ouster and that it was solely because the chaplain did not provide “good service to the members.”

Meanwhile, some Republicans defended Ryan.

"There were questions about responsiveness," Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said about Conroy. “And it just seemed like, like it was time for a change.”

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