Republican state leaders were in no hurry Thursday to respond to the Obama administration’s determination that North Carolina is discriminating against transgender people – and didn’t even agree on whether to adhere to a Monday deadline.
House Speaker Tim Moore said Thursday that legislators won’t meet the Department of Justice’s Monday deadline to declare that House Bill 2 will not be enforced.
The department sent state leaders a letter Wednesday saying that the law violates the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 – a finding that could jeopardize billions in federal education funding. Those laws ban employment discrimination and discrimination in education based on sex.
“We will take no action by Monday,” Moore told reporters Thursday. “That deadline will come and go. We don’t ever want to lose any money, but we’re not going to get bullied by the Obama administration to take action prior to Monday’s date. That’s not how this works.”
Moore said state leaders are trying to determine their next steps. “Right now we’re talking with our attorneys to see what our options are,” he said. “We’re going to move at the speed that we’re going to move at to look at what our options are.”
Graham Wilson, a spokesman for Gov. Pat McCrory, said via text message that the governor does plan to have a response to the Justice Department order by Monday’s deadline. He did not offer further details.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest distanced President Barack Obama from the order in his news briefing Thursday afternoon. “These kinds of enforcement actions are made independent of any sort of political interference or direction from the White House,” Earnest said. “Those are decisions that are made entirely by attorneys at the Department of Justice.”
HB2 became law in less than 12 hours. Five days should be more than enough time to decide how to clean up after it.
Rep. Cecil Brockman, a High Point Democrat, in a tweet
Democrats in the legislature said the Department of Justice order gives lawmakers plenty of time and should be addressed now.
“HB2 became law in less than 12 hours,” Rep. Cecil Brockman, a High Point Democrat, said in a tweet. “Five days should be more than enough time to decide how to clean up after it.”
Senate leader Phil Berger was less clear on what might happen – or won’t happen – before Monday. “Obviously there’ll have to be some response – you’ve got the deadline – but I don’t see the legislature, as the legislature, taking any specific response,” he said Thursday morning.
The Department of Justice takes issue with House Bill 2’s provision requiring transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate. The bathroom rule applies to state government facilities, public universities and schools, while private businesses are allowed to set their own policies. A letter to state agencies said that the law represents “a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender employees.”
An executive order issued by McCrory addressed some of the impacts of the law on state employees. McCrory expanded nondiscrimination protections for all state employees to include sexual orientation and gender identity. And he ordered Cabinet agencies to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees and visitors who request single-occupancy restrooms, locker rooms and showers.
Moore said that despite the deadline, North Carolina won’t risk an immediate loss of federal education funding if it doesn’t comply. During the current school year, state public schools received $861 million. In 2014-2015, the University of North Carolina system got $1.4 billion.
“They can’t just – through an administrative action by the attorney general’s office – issue a decree that has the force and effect of law over this state,” he said. “That’s not how this works. What they would have to do is initiate litigation at that point.”
People are angry, and one of the reasons they’re angry is because of the failure – particularly of the federal government – to do the things that the people know need to be done, and yet they go off on a tangent like this and push radical social engineering.
Phil Berger, Senate president pro tem
Berger also said he doesn’t think the Department of Justice has “the legal right” to stop House Bill 2. He says North Carolina residents should be “frustrated” by the order.
“This might be part of what you’re seeing with both the Bernie Sanders and the Trump pushes,” he said, referring to the presidential candidates. “People are angry, and one of the reasons they’re angry is because of the failure – particularly of the federal government – to do the things that the people know need to be done, and yet they go off on a tangent like this and push radical social engineering.”
In Washington, though, North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers weren’t eager to join the fray. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr didn’t appear ready Thursday to get personally involved in the HB2 controversy. His spokesman suggested it remained a state and local matter even with the involvement of the Justice Department.
“It sounds like the issue will be revisited at the state and local levels, and Sen. Burr encourages our state and local officials to do so,” said Burr campaign spokesman Alex Johnson. “In the meantime, Sen. Burr will remain focused on his responsibilities of heading up the American intelligence community and keeping North Carolinians safe.”
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis didn’t respond to inquiries about the federal order Thursday.
Also Thursday, one of the primary backers of House Bill 2 – the Christian Action League of North Carolina – called on state leaders to fight the federal action.
“At the hands of his henchmen in the U.S. Department of Justice, King Obama has delivered his message of intimidation to the state of North Carolina,” executive director Mark Creech said on Facebook. “The Great Pontiff of Political Correctness holds the educational futures of our state’s children hostage, while dangling the money bags of federal funds over their heads, demanding in exchange North Carolina bow to the madness of obliterating male and female distinctives.”
Charlotte Observer staff writer Tim Funk contributed to this report.