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House speaker talks abortion, marijuana — and a trip to Ukraine

House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), on Wednesday, January 25, 2023, just after talking with reporters about the start of bill filing for the long legislative session.
Rusty Jacobs
Fil photo of House speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), on Wednesday, January 25, 2023, just after talking with reporters about the start of bill filing for the long legislative session.

N.C. House Republicans are getting close to a consensus on how they’ll approach new abortion restrictions, medical marijuana legislation and private school vouchers.

Republican House speaker Tim Moore chats with WUNC’s Colin Campbell about where things stand and what to expect in the final months of the legislative session. And he shares details about his unusual trip to Ukraine during the legislature’s spring break.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. Hear the full episode of The Politics Podcast here.

Campbell: The legislature took a week off earlier this month for spring break. And I just used the opportunity to work from home for a few days, but you opted to go a little further afield than just hitting the beach. You spent a couple of days in Ukraine. Tell us a little bit about how this trip came about.

Moore: ... When I went on my trip to Europe, I took about — actually, between travel time, and everything — about four days of it was Ukraine. And [I] met up with some folks who were affiliated with her organization in Krakow, Poland. We then drove to a small town on the border where there's a train that goes into Kyiv. There are no flights over Poland, unless they're fighter jets or drones or missiles. Right, so you know, there's no airliners. So then you get on this 12-hour train ride into Kyiv. And just about four stops or so. But it's, you know, there's armed guards on there, there were soldiers on there. It's a little different train experience than what we're probably used to. But you take this train ride in, and then you get to the city and then [I] had a chance to meet with a lot of folks who were with NGOs out of the US: missionaries, met with folks with our embassy, met with members of parliament, met with folks with their government, really to try to get an understanding of what's happening and sort of at a macro level, but even at the granular level.

Had the chance to ... help to distribute some aid to some families who were displaced. [I] worked with, again, some missionaries and some of the things they're doing. [I'm] going to try to connect them with some churches back home ... but [I] was really proud, Colin, of the fact that Samaritan's Purse, which is based right here, which was started by the Graham family, of course, is such a major player. And I knew they were big, right, I always knew of the little shoe boxes that you know, your churches you would put together on Sunday. But I didn't realize the extent to which they were in areas that would be I guess, dangerous areas to try to help people. They're not picking sides, they're not doing that, same with [military non-profit] Save Our Allies. But they're helping provide medical relief. They're helping provide training, they're helping to — just humanitarian assistance. And to see that happen, to see people leave the comfort of their ordinary lives to go over and help just says a lot. And it just makes me even more proud to be an American to see that.

Did you have to take any special security precautions as an elected official going into a war zone? I mean, obviously, you're not a member of Congress or part of the Biden administration, but you may not have wanted the Russians to know that a leader from a U.S. state was in the area.

I think there are certain precautions that are taken. ... [The] State Department, because I met with the deputy station chief for the embassy, I know they knew we were there. And as a general rule, the Russians aren't going to want to target someone who's an elected official from the U.S. That's not a good move. I mean, it's widely known there that most American officials, diplomats, intelligence community, whatever, contractors are staying at this one particular hotel. And so the Russians are told that, so they don't like inadvertently or intentionally hit it. And so there's kind of that understanding, so I don't think they want to do something. And at the end of the day, I'm just another guy, so.

Some of the members of your party in Congress are pushing now to decrease the amount our country spends on aid to Ukraine. I know there's been another couple hundred million allocated just this past week. ... What in your mind is the role of the United States and its budget in this particular conflict?

I think two things, one, I think it is in our strategic interest, to not allow Russia to overrun Ukraine. I think that could lead to a much larger conflict. At the same time, I don't believe that we need to be sending troops there or anything like that. I don't think that needs to happen. I think we're in this kind of Cold War-esque type conflict that we were in in a lot of ways when the USSR was still around. And Russia has clearly shown that it's going to 'A' act against the interests of the United States. And 'B' is willing to engage in unprovoked military aggression. And so the question is, how far do they do that? How far do they want to push it? And you get a sense that the European countries are certainly taking it very, very seriously. I do think that Europe should and has invested heavily in ensuring that [it's] doing what it can to help Ukraine. And I think the U.S.'s role needs to be measured.

The other thing that needs to happen is that we need to also demand accountability. I think anybody who's going to be honest with you would acknowledge that there is in fact corruption in the system there in Ukraine. It just is what it is. It's been that way. And we need to ensure that any taxpayer-funded resources that are provided, military systems or whatever, that there's accountability, that we know it's being used for the right reasons. It's not being diverted, it's not being stockpiled, it's not being sold. It's being used the way that it should be. So I think it's a matter of ... demanding accountability, you know, for our assistance there. ...

Switching gears to some of the stuff happening closer to home here in the legislature, as we get into what may be the final months of session — we'll see if that actually happens. We happen to be recording this on April 23 or 4/20. So I wanted to ask the status of the medical marijuana bill the Senate's passed, [does] that have enough support to come up in the House this session do you think?

We have not voted on it in our caucus yet. I get a sense that there is a decent amount of support for medicinal use of cannabis. But then there is also a significant amount of opposition. I don't know that count. I suspect it will be a divided vote, much like the healthcare expansion legislation was, much like the gaming legislation that passed earlier. And it's just a matter of: see what the caucus' appetite is on it. But I would say that it has a better chance of passing this year than in any time in the past.

So we'll see in the coming months whether the caucus gets a majority support to where you feel like you could put it on the floor.

That's right. ... I would say probably within the next month, we should know.

Another thing that's going on with caucus discussions, I was curious if there's been any progress among Republicans on any sort of abortion proposal. Are there delays that are holding up getting a bill out that most folks in your caucus can agree to?

We've had a workgroup in the House and a workgroup in the Senate that have met. The staff are ironing out a lot of the details. ... I think we've pretty well signaled kind of what I saw [as] a consensus, you know, something around a 12-week period, with exceptions built in there for rape, for incest, for the wife or the mother for what's called fetal abnormality. Building that in and then some other reforms and changes to improve adoption, to improve access to health care. I think what you can expect to see is a piece of legislation that falls along those lines.

Any thought that you might not have enough votes, if there are members in your caucus who maybe feel like anything other than a total ban on abortion is something they couldn't morally vote for?

I would be extraordinarily surprised if they were pro-life members of the caucus, who would vote against what would probably be the most significant pro-life legislation in our state in a half-century.

You co-sponsored another bill this week with Representative Tricia Cotham, who's now a member of your party. It would expand eligibility for the private school voucher program known as Opportunity Scholarships. Senate also is proposing a different sort of expansion, what generally is the landscape around this issue, particularly as it pertains to budget season continuing?

There's a general position of support to expand educational choice, Colin. And really one of the driving factors that has led to this — not one of, 'the' driving factor — is that this is what parents want for their children. A parent or a child should not be stuck with having to choose where they go to school based on their zip code. And in my area, back home where I am, we have great public schools. I'm a product of the public schools, both of my sons are products of the public schools and public universities. So you're not going to find somebody who stands up for public schools more than I. But you know, there are some areas of our state where sadly, those public schools are failing, either through just not great instruction, or maybe they're pushing some sort of agenda or something that those parents find objectionable for their children, whatever it is. ... And those parents ought to have that right to make choice to do something different. And they ought to be able to, with the tax money that they're paying into the system where they're paying for the schools, ought to see some of those funds go back and follow those children.

... I mean, you've got areas around this state where money has been poured in and poured and poured in. And some of these schools are still getting D's and F's, D's and F's. Is it really right? Is it really right to require those children to continue to stay in those schools that are failing them? I would submit to you that it's not right to do so. And this is another thing to do. But again, ... it's two things: you need to also continue to invest in the public schools, which this budget does again by a record amount.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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