RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Republican leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly said Tuesday that they were prepared to agree to a proposal from the governor on House Bill 2, which the governor now denies ever having made.
Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore held a joint press conference Tuesday evening to make the announcement.
Berger said Governor Roy Cooper sent a proposal Thursday, which included a repeal of House Bill 2. The proposal reportedly included four points, including the repeal of HB2.
"I've been meeting with my members all day long—usually in groups of about eight to ten—going through and representing to them what I believed was an offer from the Governor's Office," Moore said Tuesday evening.
Berger and Moore said they called Cooper Tuesday afternoon to let him know they had discussed the proposal and agreed to it, in principle. That's when they say Cooper denied he made the proposal.
Berger, Moore point to emails as proof
Leaders say they have the proposal from Cooper in writing, along with email traffic which validates that the proposal came from Cooper's office. Berger said the proposal came to the Republicans through members of the business community who were acting as negotiators on behalf of the governor.
Emails provided by Berger's office show Cooper's attorney, William McKinney, communicated the terms of the alleged proposal to Ned Curran, a Charlotte businessman who recently finished his term as chairman of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.
The proposal discussed in the email from McKinney to Curran—in an exchange provided by Berger's office—discusses a bill that would repeal HB2, re-set bathroom access to the pre-HB2 status quo, allow local governments to pass non-discrimination ordinances with protections equal to those at the federal level and also contained a provision allowing people to collect attorney fees and court costs if they successfully sue the government for violating their religious liberties.
The email exchange in which Cooper's office allegedly made the initial proposal was sent at 11 p.m. on Thursday, March 23.
WBTV obtained a copy of legislation distributed to the House Republican Caucus with similar provisions earlier on the evening of March 23.
It remains unclear if the email provided by Berger's Office was the first time Cooper's staff communicated with legislative Republicans about the proposed compromise.
A spokesman for Cooper did not immediately respond to a request from WBTV for the original email communication to authenticate the documents distributed by Berger's office.
But at the press conference Tuesday night, Berger doubled down on his assertion that Cooper made the proposal and then changed his mind after Republicans had agreed to it.
"We're not sure where we are right now, quite frankly," Berger said. "He basically denied that those 4 points were what he proposed."
Berger said Cooper has an issue with the federal non-discrimination standard.
"We think the way to solve this is through the governor's proposal with votes from the Republicans and Democrats," Berger said.
The timeline of legislators taking up the repeal of House Bill 2 is now up in the air, according to Berger, because of the governor's alleged backtrack.
Cooper, Democrats respond to new Republican attacks
"It's frustrating that Republican leaders are more interested in political stunts than negotiating a compromise to repeal HB2," Governor Cooper's Spokesman, Ford Porter, said in a statement following the Republican press conference. "While Governor Cooper continues to work for a compromise, there are still issues to be worked out, and Republican leaders' insistence on including an Indiana-style RFRA provision remains a deal-breaker. Any compromise must work to end discrimination, repair our reputation, and bring back jobs and sports, and a RFRA is proven to do just the opposite."
House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson spoke to reporters after the press conference saying there was an agreement for the repeal reached last week which would have preempted bathroom access and allowed non-discrimination ordinances in cities.
Jackson says Democrats were willing to support the compromise agreed to last week but says Republicans said they would go "with their own bill."
"I think it's clear they're not going to be able to get this fixed," Jackson said about the HB2 bill."[They] can't get the votes in their own caucus."
Jackson said he agreed with two points of the Republican proposal but does not support limiting local non-discrimination ordinances to the federal standard. He said compromise on House Bill 186 had votes to pass in the House, but it isn't clear if it had support in the Senate.
Moore and Majority Leader John Bell said the House Republicans did not agree to a compromise on HB186.
Speaker Moore still open to making a deal
Minutes after wrapping up his press conference with Berger and leaving to meet with Cooper at the Governor's Mansion to continue HB2 negotiations, Moore spoke exclusively with WBTV about whether he felt a deal could still come together to repeal the controversial bill.
"I've said all along that we can do a repeal," Moore said. "As long as we have something in its place that guarantees that we protect the rights of privacy and safety when it comes to bathroom, shower rooms, locker rooms and changing facilities and that guarantees that local governments no longer adopt any other NDOs that go beyond the federal standard.'
Moore, Berger, their senior aides and Democratic legislative leaders met with Cooper for several hours Tuesday night.
The result of those talks, if any, was not immediately clear once the meeting concluded.
But going into the meeting, Moore reiterated that he thought the conversation was already ironed out prior to Cooper's alleged change of heart on Tuesday.
"I believed, again, that we had an offer in principle," Moore reiterated.
WBTV asked Moore "what do you say to average North Carolinians right now who think this just look like finger pointing amongst politicians in Raleigh?"
"Everybody always looks for the blame but, realistically, I'm looking for a solution and I have been for months," Moore said. "I'm glad to try to find a way to do the reset on House Bill 2.
The latest round of finger-pointing comes on the same day that the NCAA telegraphed its final deadline for HB2 to be repealed and North Carolina regain eligibility to host college championships was Wednesday.