Governors don’t have ‘luxury of partisan posturing,’ Cox says during White House briefing

Feb 23, 2024, 3:28 PM | Updated: 3:42 pm

Gov. Cox in D.C....

President Joe Biden left, Vice President Kamala Harris and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis look on as Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Friday. (The White House via YouTube)

(The White House via YouTube)

WASHINGTON — As state leaders, governors don’t have the “luxury of partisan posturing” and must instead work to balance budgets and fix infrastructure, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said during a press briefing at the White House in Washington on Friday.

Cox, who is in the nation’s capital for winter meetings of the National Governors Association, joined President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis for a press conference after participating in a White House business meeting.

The vice president introduced the Utah Republican as “a great partner on maternal mortality and mental health.”

“It’s truly an honor to be in this place,” Cox said, before quipping, “Mr. President, you have an amazing house, and it never gets old being here.”

As chairman of the National Governors Association, Cox has been promoting his “Disagree Better” initiative while in Washington this week. He said governors often collaborate to find solutions to the most pressing challenges in their states. And while leaders of red and blue states don’t always agree, Cox said governors work together much more than most people know.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with your administration on these issues,” he told the president. “Now, that is not to say that we always agree. I can assure you that we don’t. We have our arguments and disagreements. Mr. President, I think you said, ‘We argue like hell, and then we get things done.’ And that is true.”

Biden: ‘I like working with you’

Cox was among more than 40 state governors who gathered at the White House on Friday, along with cabinet members and senior administration advisers. The leaders discussed a range of issues, including housing affordability, the risks of artificial intelligence, workforce development and disaster response.

The president took the podium following Cox’s remarks and spoke of bipartisan cooperation with governors and state leaders.

“To my Republican friends, I’ve got bad news for you: I actually like working with you,” Biden said. “It reminds me of the days I was in the Senate — we’d argue like hell and then actually get things done.”

Cox also spoke of bipartisanship, ahead of a planned discussion with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Amy Coney Barrett on toxic polarization.

“Governors agree that overcoming our nation’s challenges requires working together — across party lines and across state lines,” Cox said. “We can’t let political division get in the way of good policy. We welcome the opportunity to work with the White House and Congress on finding bipartisan solutions to border security, economic stability and other challenges.”

With Saturday marking the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden urged further support to Ukrainian allies or risk emboldening Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We can’t walk away now,” he said. “And that’s what Putin is betting on, he’s betting on we’re going to walk away.”

The president asked the gathered governors to push their state’s congressmen to pass a bipartisan foreign aid and immigration package that would send more military supplies to Ukraine. The bill passed the Senate but is unlikely to be brought to the House floor for a vote.

‘Disagree Better’ controversy

While in Washington for meetings with the National Governors Association, Cox drew backlash from home when — during a conversation promoting the “Disagree Better” initiative at George Washington University — he fielded a question from a student in attendance about a bill signed last year that restricts gender-related surgeries for minors.

Gov. Cox discusses care for transgender kids during the Sensono Series Friday.

Earlier in the discussion, Cox spoke of meeting with stakeholders including transgender kids and their parents about the bill and said language about hormone therapies was softened as a result — even if those constituents remained unhappy with the bill as a whole.

He was later questioned by a student in the audience who asked: “Where is the line where conversation becomes pointless? A trans kid kills themselves because they couldn’t access the gender-affirming care they needed. Do you think the parents of that kid would care that you had a conversation at the Governor’s Mansion about legislation before he passed?”

Cox said “No one in Utah has taken their life because there wasn’t gender-affirming care,” and said he’s concerned about young people.

“The explosion that we’re seeing in that type of care, something is wrong. No one can explain exactly what’s happening out there,” the governor said. “I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want them to be successful. I think there’s a better way to do that than having genital mutilation surgeries before they’re 18.”

Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, issued a statement Thursday, saying the governor’s statement about gender-related surgeries was “inaccurate.”

“Even before Utah’s moratorium on transgender medical care, genital surgeries for youth simply did not happen,” Williams stated. “In order to disagree better, it’s important that the language our leaders use be factual and not inflammatory. In his recent comments, Gov. Cox missed the mark on both counts. They were hurtful to the transgender community.”

In a statement to KSL.com on Friday, a spokesperson for the governor’s office said: “Gov. Cox misunderstood a question and was not happy with his answer. After the public exchange, the governor invited the student backstage and respectfully listened, and they discussed their differences for about 10 minutes. Both left the conversation with a better understanding of the other’s perspective.”

Cox — who has consistently expressed support for the LGBTQ community — is gearing up for a reelection fight and faces a pair of primary challengers from within his own party.

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Governors don’t have ‘luxury of partisan posturing,’ Cox says during White House briefing