JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Thursday that transgender people should be able to use whichever bathroom they choose, wading into one of the most contentious issues in politics and opposing many in his party.
Speaking at a town hall event on NBC's "Today" Thursday, Trump was asked about North Carolina's so-called "bathroom law," which, among other things, requires transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate in state government buildings as well as public schools and universities.
Trump said the law had caused unnecessary strife for the state, which he said had paid "a big price" economically.
"There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate," said Trump. "There has been so little trouble."
After the law was signed in late March, Deutsche Bank halted plans to add 250 North Carolina jobs, while PayPal reversed a decision to open a 400-employee operation center in Charlotte. Local tourism boards have also said they've lost millions of dollars thanks to cancelled conventions and business meetings.
Trump's main rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, immediately fired back, saying that Trump is giving in to "political correctness."
"Grown adult men, strangers, should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls," Cruz said, calling his view "basic common sense."
His campaign also released a statement declaring Trump "no different from politically correct leftist elites."
"He has succumbed to the left's agenda, which is to force Americans to leave God out of public life while paying lip service to false tolerance," it read.
The comments came as Trump drew closer to clinching the Republican nomination with a big win in his home state of New York earlier this week. If he becomes his party's nominee, Trump is likely to face pressure to moderate some of his stances to appeal to independents and women in the general election. Yet in doing so, he risks alienating some of his party's more conservative supporters, and falling vulnerable to those like Cruz and others who insist that Trump is not a true Republican.
Trump said at the town hall that he didn't know if any transgender people work for his organization, but said that some "probably" did. Asked about Caitlyn Jenner, an Olympic gold medal winner then-known as Bruce Jenner, walking into Trump Tower using the bathroom, he said would be fine with her using any bathroom she chooses.
Still, Trump said he's opposed to efforts to create new, transgender bathrooms alongside single gendered ones, calling that push "discriminatory in a certain way" and "unbelievably expensive for businesses and the country."
Meanwhile, the state's Republican Gov. Pat McCrory defended the law in a statement from his re-election campaign, blaming the Charlotte city council for passing an "unneeded and overreaching ordinance."
"Where the governor disagrees with Mr. Trump is that bathroom and shower facilities in our schools should be kept separate and special accommodations made when needed. It's just common sense," said the statement from campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz.
In Washington, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan punted on questions about the legislation, saying that it wasn't his place to get involved in what each state was doing.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace in Frederick, Maryland and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.