Fight over chaplain leads to shouting match between lawmakers on House floor
Just when it seemed like the fury surrounding the chaplain for the US House of Representatives was over.
As House members were wrapping up votes Tuesday night, a remarkably heated exchange erupted on the floor, with one congressman shouting, aggressively pointing his finger, and — at one point — banging his fist on a table as he sharply criticized another member.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley of New York attempted to offer a resolution to form a committee to investigate the forced resignation of the Rev. Pat Conroy, the House chaplain. Crowley, a Catholic, made a similar motion last month after questions arose over the resignation.
As his resolution was in the process of being tabled due to GOP opposition on Tuesday, Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey walked over to Crowley on the Democratic side of the House floor and accused him of “politicizing” the chaplain controversy.
“I just walked up afterward and said ‘Joe.’ He turned. I said, ‘You need to let go of this,'” MacArthur later told reporters.
After a few more words were exchanged, Crowley, a towering 6’5” figure whose face turned red with anger, grew visibly upset and could be heard from across the room shouting that he was “offended” by the chaplain incident.
“I’m not the one politicizing this,” Crowley yelled, loud enough to be overheard by a handful of reporters sitting in the press gallery above the House floor.
“The speaker is politicizing this,” he shouted, a reference to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office having requested Conroy resign in the first place.
Recalling the incident, MacArthur said that Crowley “ordered” him to go back to the Republican side of the floor, to which MacArthur objected.
“In New Jersey, we don’t back down from people,” MacArthur said. “This is a guy who wants to be speaker and he’s so thin-skinned that he can’t take criticism from another member of Congress? I think that speaks for itself.”
Things appeared to calm down quickly and Crowley could be seen laughing and joking around with colleagues soon after. Crowley, who’s widely seen as friendly and mild-mannered among Democrats, was not available for comment. His spokeswoman acknowledged that the two men got into a heated conversation but argued there was no escalation.
Earlier Thursday, the House chaplain was re-appointed to his position so that he could remain chaplain after he rescinded his resignation last week and it was accepted by Ryan. Tensions have run high as members of parties questioned why Ryan requested the chaplain to resign last month. Following the outcry, Conroy rescinded his resignation and accused Ryan’s chief of staff of suggesting to him “maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic” — an allegation Ryan’s chief of staff denied.
Ryan accepted Conroy’s decision to stay and said Tuesday morning — before the evening’s heated exchange — that he had confidence the chamber could move past the issue.
“We talked about how to improve the services going forward,” Ryan said during his weekly news conference. “We’re going to keep talking. I think we can ultimately make improvements so that everybody has access to the pastoral services they’re looking for.”