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DeSantis and Haley’s back and forth over bathroom bills in fourth GOP primary debate
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NewsNation on Dec. 6, 2023, at the Moody Music Hall at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP) Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NewsNation on Dec. 6, 2023, at the Moody Music Hall at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP)

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NewsNation on Dec. 6, 2023, at the Moody Music Hall at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP)

Grace Abels
By Grace Abels December 7, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis brought up bathroom access as one of many attacks on former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the fourth Republican presidential primary debate.  

"They had a bill to try to say that men shouldn’t go into girls’ bathrooms, and she killed that bill," DeSantis said.

DeSantis has a point that the bill died and Haley had criticized it. But Haley — who said DeSantis criticized bathroom bills before he became governor — also has a point.

As governor, Haley said in 2016 that she didn’t believe it was "necessary" to pass a Senate bill that would have required people to use the bathroom that aligned with their sex assigned at birth. At the time, a similar law in North Carolina, H.B. 2, had sparked backlash and caused several businesses and artists to boycott the state. 

The South Carolina bill, which would have applied to public and school restrooms, stalled in committee, so it never reached Haley’s desk. 

During the Dec. 6 debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Haley said she opposed the bill because of a lack of incidents involving transgender people in bathrooms. This was consistent with what The Washington Post reported in 2016 that she said at that time. In a 2022 appearance on Fox News, she again said she "strong-armed" the bill, adding that schools should resolve the issue with parents. 

Haley lobbed a similar accusation at DeSantis: "When he was running for governor and they asked him about that, he said he didn’t think bathroom bills were a good use of his time."

Her campaign cited a clip of DeSantis from his 2018 run for Florida governor in which he said at a campaign event that he would "not pass a law" restricting bathroom access. DeSantis said in the clip that "getting into the bathroom wars — I don’t think that’s a good use of our time."

Flash forward: In May 2023, DeSantis signed a law that limits transgender people to using the bathroom that aligns with their sex assigned at birth in public schools, universities, government buildings and prisons, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

RELATED: Fact-checking the fourth Republican presidential debate

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Our Sources

The Washington Post, "South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley says her state doesn’t need transgender bathroom law," April 17, 2016

Politico magazine, The bathroom bill that ate North Carolina, March 23, 2017

CNBC, ‘Bathroom bill’ to cost North Carolina $3.76 billion, March 27, 2017

South Carolina Legislature, S 1203 General Bill, April 6, 2016

New York Post, Ron DeSantis downplays ‘bathroom wars’ in resurfaced clip ahead of GOP debate, Nov. 8, 2023

Florida Family Policy Council, Together for Florida GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Forum & Livestream, May 5, 2018

Florida Senate, CS/HB 1521: Facility Requirements Based on Sex, July 1 2023

Tampa Bay Times, DeSantis signs bills on pronouns, gender care, drag shows and more, May 17, 2023

Internet Archive, "Outnumbered - FOX News," Oct, 5, 2022

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DeSantis and Haley’s back and forth over bathroom bills in fourth GOP primary debate