By Philip Elliott
September 23, 2015

The guest list for Wednesday’s welcome event for Pope Francis created a political headache for the White House.

In recent days, conservatives lambasted President Obama for inviting an openly gay former Episcopal bishop, a nun who leads a social justice group that has been critical of Republicans and transgender activists who have pushed the Catholic church to be more inclusive.

The White House has responded by arguing that the invited guests were only a handful of the estimated 15,000 who will be on hand to welcome Pope Francis.

But many conservative pundits and lawmakers saw the invitations as a serious insult. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, lambasted the Administration.

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“Obama shows total disrespect to millions of Americans by transforming Pope Francis’ White House visit into a politicized cattle call for gay and pro-abortion activists,” he wrote in an op-ed for the conservative Daily Caller.

On the conservative Brietbart.com, the invites were described as “a stunning show of political indecorum.” Conservative columnist Ed Morrissey asked “When the Saudis visited the White House this month, did Obama invite women’s rights activists to dinner with them?”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest argued that the invites reflected “the diversity of people in this country.”

“There is no theological test that was administered prior to giving out tickets to stand on the South Lawn Wednesday morning,” he said at a press conference Monday.

Read More: Here Are the 5 Controversies Over Pope Francis’ Visit to Washington

Still, a handful of invitations were laden with enough political symbolism to stir questions among conservatives.

Former Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in his faith, was slated to be on the White House lawn. Robinson divorced his husband after stepping down as Bishop in 2013. He now is a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, a think tank with deep ties to the White House.

Robinson is expected to be joined by Sister Simone Campbell, who led protests against a Republican budget plan that would have made deep cuts to social services. Her group, Network, also urged lawmakers to back Obama’s signature health care law, which the GOP stood in lockstep against.

Also joining the throng is Mateo Williamson, a Catholic transgender activist, and Vivian Taylor, an Episcopal transgender activist. Aaron Ledesma, who blogs on The Gay Catholic about his return to faith after hearing the Pope’s inclusive message, also won an invitation.

It was too much for conservatives like Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor. “Welcoming a pro-life, pro-marriage leader at the White House with a crowd of abortion and gay rights activists is as classy as hosting an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with an open bar,” Huckabee said. “President Obama should be ashamed of himself.”

Read Next: Pope Francis: I Am Not a Liberal

Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com.

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