We don’t believe Phil Berger – but that doesn’t matter this week

The Observer editorial board

N.C. House speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger hold a press conference Tuesday about an HB2 compromise that fell apart.
N.C. House speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger hold a press conference Tuesday about an HB2 compromise that fell apart. cseward@newsobserver.com

If you are to believe Phil Berger and Tim Moore’s version of why yet another HB2 deal fell through this week, you’d have to believe at least one thing: That N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, who previously rejected HB2 deals that left the LGBT community vulnerable to discrimination, agreed to that exact thing.

That’s what Senate leader Berger and House Speaker Moore contended at a hastily called news conference late Tuesday. Moore and Berger said that Cooper had proposed, then backed away from, HB2 changes that left intact a ban on governments from setting non-discrimination policies similar to those Charlotte had enacted in 2016.

The Republican leaders even provided excerpts from an email exchange between Senate staffers and Cooper’s attorney, William McKinney, about “the bill which we have been discussing.”

If you believe the governor’s version of events, however, you would have to believe that the discussions were only that – discussions. Cooper’s spokesperson Ford Porter said the governor neither offered nor made any deal. The sides were simply moving toward something, but that there were still issues to be worked out.

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, announce late Wednesday that legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper have reached a deal to repeal House Bill 2. Neither Moore nor Berger took questions, saying tha

Berger’s emails do show that the governor seemed to be at least looking at language that would have protected only people who are protected by federal law – meaning no gays, lesbians or transgender individuals. But those emails offer only a very small snapshot, and they don’t show the governor actually proposing or agreeing to anything. If Berger or Moore had that kind of email, you can be sure they’d release it.

In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter whom you believe. Here’s what you should understand about the Berger-Moore press conference: The Republicans called it because they feel helpless in the face of the NCAA’s deadline this week to do something about HB2 or face the loss of championship events through 2022.

If N.C. Republicans had a bill that the NCAA would accept – and you can be sure Berger or Moore would ask – then Republicans don’t need Cooper. They could pass the bill, override any Cooper veto, and get credit for bringing NCAA events (and other events and business) back to North Carolina.

Instead, Berger and Moore did what you do when you don’t have a deal with anyone: You stand up and put on a show that casts blame on someone else.

All of which leaves the state, at least for now, where it has been for the past year. Republicans have passed a law that sanctions discrimination. They justified this law with the fiction that without it, grown men would be showering with girls. That’s not true, and it hasn’t been true in any U.S. city that has an ordinance similar to what Charlotte passed.

But by creating this bogeyman, Republicans have become trapped by it. If they compromise now, they’d be “abandoning” all those people who didn’t need protecting in the first place. That leaves them unable to try anything but political theater, and it leaves yet another curtain dropping on North Carolina.