Ted Cruz was evasive on Thursday under questioning over whether he supports North Carolina’s recently enacted anti-LGBT law, but indicated he think the statute is “perfectly reasonable” and lamented Democrats won’t join Republicans to enable discrimination in the name of religious liberty.
Cruz made the comments during a town hall on MSNBC when moderator Chuck Todd asked the Republican presidential candidate for his thoughts on the controversial law. The 2016 hopeful indicates he backs the law based, incorrectly, on the notion allowing transgender people to use public restrooms is akin to allowing men into women’s facilities.
“I’m a constitutionalist and the state has the power to pass their own laws, to make a determination that men should not being going to the bathroom with little girls,” Cruz said. “As the father of daughters, I’m not terribly excited about men being able to go alone into a bathroom with my daughters, and I think that is a perfectly reasonable determination for the people to make. I mean, that’s what a democracy is to respect the values of the people.”
Signed by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory after an emergency session of the state legislature, the law, House Bill 2, bars city from enacting pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinances and prohibits transgender people from using public restrooms in schools and government building consistent with their gender identity.
Under pressure from LGBT advocates and business leaders urging him to repeal the law, McCrory signed a executive order this week that keeps the anti-trans policy in place for public restrooms, but prohibits other discrimination against state LGBT employees.
When Todd pointed out the executive order and asked if the North Carolina law went too far, Cruz dodged and instead lamented “political correctness” as well as the Obama administration for enforcing federal law to prohibit discrimination against transgender students, including for bathroom use in schools.
“The political correctness that we have embraced — enough already,” Cruz said. “The Obama Education Department is going against a junior high, insisting that the junior high must allow a teenage boy to shower with teenage girls. Now, that’s just nuts. I mean, that’s not a reasonable position. That’s crazy.”
Cruz’s position is consistent with the Republican National Committee, which during its winter meeting this year approved a resolution in favor of anti-transgender bathroom bills and criticized the Obama administration for enforcing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to require schools to allow transgender students to use bathroom consistent with their gender identity.
More than 130 businesses have called on North Carolina to repeal HB 2, including PayPal and Deutsche Bank, which have cancelled expansion plans in the state over the law. Cruz downplayed those companies’ objections, saying business “gives into political pressure and has been willing over and over again to trample on religious liberty.”
Todd tried to get in a question about whether McCrory made a mistake in signing the executive order, but Cruz ignored the moderator and went into a tirade about the Democrats being unwilling to defend religious liberty, which states are invoking to pass laws enabling anti-LGBT discrimination.
“One of the saddest things we’ve seen is the retreat of the Democratic Party from religious liberty,” Cruz said. “It wasn’t too long ago, two decades ago, religious liberty united as all. It used to be that Democrats and Republicans, we might disagree on marginal tax rates, but when it came to religious liberty, when it came to protecting the rights of faith of Americans, Democrats and Republicans stood united.”
Cruz cited as evidence of bipartisan support for religious liberty the 1994 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Bill Clinton. However, that law was intended to protect minorities, such as Native Americans seeking to use peyote for religious purposes, and not enable anti-LGBT discrimination. Still, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was the basis of the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which allowed closely held corporations to opt out of birth control in health coverage out of religious objections.
“Now unfortunately, in the last 20 years, the modern Democratic Party has gotten so extreme and so radical, they’ve decided there’s no room for religious liberty, and they’re excoriating anyone’s states that pass legislation identical to what they supported,” Cruz said.
Cruz brought up the case of Zubik v. Burwell, a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court brought by religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations, including Little Sisters of the Poor. The non-profits object on religious grounds to Obamacare’s requirement they offer that coverage — and even the process of filling out a form to opt out of providing the coverage.
Asked again about McCrory’s executive order, Cruz instead envisioned himself on the debate stage with Hillary Clinton after he had received the Republican nomination.
“I cannot wait to stand on the debate stage with Hillary Clinton and to defend religious liberty and let Hillary explain to the American people why she supports suing nuns,” Cruz said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
After Todd asked a final time about McCrory’s executive order, Cruz finally relented and said he’s unfamiliar with the directive, but his position on religious liberty is clear.
“I don’t know the terms of what he signed in his executive order,” Cruz said. The states have the authority to pass laws that reflect the values of their citizens. I will always, always, always defend the religious liberty of Americans of any faith because that’s who we are as Americans.”
Luis Miranda, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, lambasted Cruz for misrepresenting the facts about North Carolina’s HB2 and similar anti-trans bathroom bills.
“Ted Cruz is being dishonest about the discriminatory bathroom bills his Party is driving, and he’s distorting the truth about transgender Americans and their identity,” Miranda said. “When pressed about the discrimination gays and lesbians confront every day, Cruz’s response was to criticize what he called the American people’s ’embrace’ of ‘political correctness.’ That tells you everything you need to know about his position on bathroom bills. Whatever his intent, it has the effect of justifying bullying, harassment, or even violence against LGBT Americans, and it cuts against our values as a country.”
Unlike Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Cruz’ rival for the Republican nomination, said he wouldn’t have signed the controversial anti-LGBT law in North Carolina. Both Democratic candidates — Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — have come out against the statute. Donald Trump has yet to comment explicitly on the law.