Under the Dome

Gov. Pat McCrory wants more time to respond to feds on House Bill 2

Gov. Pat McCrory said Sunday he has asked federal officials for an extension of their Monday deadline to declare that North Carolina will not comply with its newly enacted law restricting anti-discrimination protections.

McCrory said the U.S. Department of Justice declined his request unless he was willing to admit that House Bill 2 was discriminatory.

As a result, he said, his office is still considering how to respond. But he said: “I’m not going to publicly announce that something discriminates.”

The Republican governor made the remarks on “Fox News Sunday” in an interview with host Chris Wallace.

McCrory said the Justice Department gave him an unrealistic “three working days” to respond. “It’s the federal government being a bully,” he said.

Asked about the extension request, Justice Department spokesperson Dena Iverson released this statement later on Sunday: “On Friday, the department received requests from multiple parties for an extension of the deadline in our May 6 letters. The discussions regarding those requests are ongoing.”

The Justice Department said Wednesday that HB2 violated civil rights laws. The wide-ranging law includes a requirement for people in schools and other government buildings to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificates.

Political leaders in North Carolina have given conflicting and uncertain responses to the federal threat, which includes the possibility of losing billions of dollars in education funding.

While the governor has said over the past few days that his administration is evaluating its options, House Speaker Tim Moore said last week that the deadline “would come and go” without a response from the legislature.

The governor and legislative leaders have been united in one regard: All have called the DOJ letter an extreme overreach by President Barack Obama’s administration. That prompted the White House press secretary last week to clarify that the Justice Department acts on its own, and the president was not involved.

Obama has publicly criticized HB2, however.

Moore said, “It looks an awful lot like politics to me.” Senate leader Phil Berger called it “a gross overreach.”

Democrats, activists and Charlotte officials have criticized the General Assembly and governor for overreach of their own, by prohibiting that city’s anti-discrimination ordinance from going into effect in April.

McCrory said the Charlotte ordinance that HB2 blocked was an unnecessary reaction to a non-existent problem. Wallace asked the governor: If it wasn’t a problem, why not just walk away from HB2, which has prompted national ridicule, boycotts and condemnation by close to 200 CEOs?

McCrory said Sunday that he couldn’t change the law by himself; that would be up to the legislature.

Democrats were quick to pounce.

“Gov. McCrory signed HB2 into law in the dark of night after passing it in just 12 hours, and now complains when he’s given five days to defend it,” said Ford Porter, spokesman for Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is McCrory’s Democratic opponent in the general election. “The governor needs to undo this law now and stop playing politics with our economy.”

The Justice Department told the state it was engaged in a “pattern and practice” of discrimination for not providing restroom access according to gender identity as opposed to the sex on a birth certificate. The department said that violated Title IX education protections and Title VII employment protections.

The DOJ letter isn’t legally binding in and of itself. If the standoff continues, it would likely have to be resolved in court.

McCrory said the federal agency is “making law.”

“This is not just North Carolina,” McCrory told Wallace. “They are now telling every university that accepts federal funding that boys who may think they’re a girl can go into a girl’s locker room or restroom or shower facility. And that begins, I assume, tomorrow.”

Charlotte Observer staff writer Tim Funk contributed.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO