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Racially Insensitive Photo Surfaces on Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam's Medical School Yearbook Page. Democratic Party Leaders Call on Governor Northam to Resign; President Trump Criticizes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for Refusing Funding of Border Wall; Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam Holds Press Conference to Claim He is Not in Controversial Photo. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired February 2, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] JOHN BERCOW, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS: That is to say, whatever else happens to me, I'm not likely to lose my head.
BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bianca Nobilo, CNN, London.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, and thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredericka Whitfield.
At any moment now we'll hear from Virginia's Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, about the controversy that has erupted over the last 24 hours. Northam has no plans to resign, and now says he believes it was not him in that racist photo from his medical school yearbook according to a Democratic source. That's a big flip from his apology issued last night, where he confirmed that he was in the photo. He just hadn't made the distinction of which image he was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RALPH NORTHAM, (D) VIRGINIA: That photo and the racist and offensive attitudes it represents does not reflect that person I am today or the way that I have conducted myself as a soldier, a doctor, and a public servant. I am deeply sorry. I cannot change the decisions I made nor can I undo the harm my behavior caused then and today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Let's start with CNN's Jessica Dean in Richmond, Virginia, right outside of the governor's mansion. So what is expected today at 2:30 when he is scheduled to speak?
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredericka, we are certainly not expecting to hear him resign. That's pretty much the one thing we do know. Other than that, it's kind of anybody's guess what exactly he's going to say once we get in there. You really walked everybody through this giant flip-flop that has happened within less than 24 hours. Yesterday he was apologizing, he was taking responsibility. Today he's now, through sources we're hearing, telling people he doesn't believe that that photo is him, and that he is going to stay in the governor's mansion and remain as governor.
All of this is happening as the infrastructure around him, the political support around him both here in Virginia and nationally, continues to erode. Here in Virginia, the Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia State House and Senate Democrats as well as the Virginia Democratic Party have all called on him to resign as well as former governor Terry McAuliffe, himself mulling a 2020 run. Ralph Northam was his lieutenant governor. And then you have all the 2020 candidates who have been calling for him to resign as well.
So there is this intense pressure on him to resign, to step aside for the lieutenant governor and let him come in and be the person to lead Virginia forward. We're also learning, our Dan Merica reporting today, that Senator Tim Kaine, Senator Mark Warner, and Representative Bobby Scott, all three Democrats who didn't outright call on him to resign, have been talking with the governor this morning.
It will be interesting, Fredericka, to hear what he has to say today, how he begins to explain this flip-flop that has occurred overnight into the morning. But certainly, there have been a lot of twists and turns, and we are going to hear from himself in not too long.
WHITFIELD: And Jessica, do we know in what format we're going to be hearing him, is he walking out of the mansion, is he inviting all of you inside the mansion? How is this statement going to be made?
DEAN: Right, how is he going to engage? So he's inviting us into the mansion. We're all going to be there. This is being billed as a statement, not a press conference. Typically, when it's a press conference the media would be allowed to ask questions, there would be a back and forth. Right now, we're being told this is a statement. So whether or not he actually takes questions, we don't know. But we will certainly hear what he has to say we're being told at 2:30, right behind me. So we'll let you know.
WHITFIELD: OK, Jessica Dean, please do, thank you so much.
Joining me now, assistant editor at "The Washington Post" David Swerdlick, Democratic strategist and former Clinton White House aide Keith Boykin, both are CNN political commentators. Good to see you both. So Keith, your initial reaction to this, and now the governor will be responding, inviting reporters in, but as far as we can tell, according to sources, he will not be resigning.
KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think this is a smart move on his part. It strains credibility, first of all, when you consider the way he's handled this crisis. First he was silent on the crisis, then he responded by issuing a written statement where he didn't acknowledge which person was him, but he said that one of those persons was him. Now here we are 24 hours later, he says, yes, I am not going to resign, and it was not me actually who was in that photo. How could you be confused about whether you dressed up as a Klansman or in blackface while you were a 25-year-old adult in medical school? That's not credible, it's not plausible, it's not believable.
[14:05:02] And the smart thing to do for Ralph Northam is to resign. This is not about political party, about left or right, Republican or Democrat. Racism knows no political boundaries. He needs to step down.
WHITFIELD: OK, and so David, he as been receiving that sentiment from so many people, from people who are claiming they are his friends, people who have been with him in the trenches, so to speak, for a very long time, in the political trenches, and even they are saying he needs to step down. But the governor is going to make his own decision, and according to our Jessica there, she's learning this is not going to be a statement of resignation.
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right, and we'll learn more when the governor does make the statement. The easy part of this to analyze is that if he is indeed one of the two people in that photo, he is not going to find any political cover probably on either side of the aisle or very little on either side of the aisle, and he probably will have to step down. I just don't see how that position is sustainable.
If he's going to maintain what has been reported out today, that he was not or doesn't recall being one of the people in that photo, I think two things. One, he's going to really have to explain his train of thought going back to yesterday afternoon and why he made a conflicting statement yesterday. And to Keith's point, is that really believable, to have not remembered dressing up as either in blackface or as a Klansman when you were 25 years old in medical school?
If I can just make one more point, Fred, which is this is also now political malpractice. That's not the most important issue, but to have let people in your party, Governor McAuliffe, Senator Warren, Senator Booker, Vice President Biden go out there and make a statement based on a statement you made on camera last night and then now to be walking it back, just suggests that he is not understanding the political moment that he's in.
WHITFIELD: One of the first people I know I thought of and probably all of you thought of too was the first black governor of Virginia, Doug Wilder. What would he be thinking on this, and what would be his recommendation? And apparently, he has been asked many times, and he's fielded a lot of requests from people to make a statement. I'm reading one of his sentiments here, where he says, it really is Governor Northam's decision to make. Of course, he finds this abhorrent, very insensitive behavior. But it is the governor's decision to make.
So if the governor decides he's going to keep his post there, Keith, how will he govern when he's lost so much support in Virginia and even nationally? Even though perhaps his policies might be popular with people, this alleged behavior, this picture that he's now separating himself from, certainly is going to be very difficult for people to overlook.
BOYKIN: This is a crisis study in how not to do crisis management -- a case study, rather, in how not to do crisis management. He's doing everything wrong in the way he's handling it. He's being poorly advised. He's deceiving himself if he thinks he is going to be able to survive this. He may able to survive for a day or two, but this cannot stand. This is an unsustainable position no matter what he says. It almost doesn't matter. In fact, I'm not going to say almost, it does not matter at this point whether he is even one of those two people in the photo, because he posted that photo on his yearbook page as a medical school student, as an adult, then can't remember suddenly whether or not he was one of those people. It doesn't matter at this point whether he even has proof that he was or was not one of those people. He just can't move forward. One more thing, too --
WHITFIELD: Because it really begs the question, too, if you object to the photo now or you're saying you weren't in the photo, when you picked up that yearbook and saw that photo in there, why then do you not object or dispute whether that was authentic or you were in there, or how could you even be associated with it? So it's been more than 30 years, David, and for it to be made public and for his response to be what we have seen in the past 24 hours, it's very -- it is going to be a difficult moment for him, shall we say, in less than 20 minutes.
We're looking at live pictures right now, everyone is assembling inside the governor's mansion. But again, our Jessica says that it's going to be a statement, according to his people.
SWERDLICK: Yes, so if in fact he is not one of the people in the photo, I am willing to hear him out and hear what he has to say about how that photo wound up on his yearbook page. I assume he wasn't the yearbook editor. That being said, to Keith's point, at a minimum it's just very hard to imagine someone not remembering, at age 25, dressing up as a Klansman or in blackface and not remembering it. It's one thing to explain it or apologize for it. I said earlier on your air, Fred, that I thought his apology, at least my reaction last night was I thought it was a good apology.
[14:10:04] But to now come out and say I apologize for something that I don't actually remember whether I did or not, with these stakes, being a state governor, he's not a private citizen, being the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I think it's just a very difficult position. I can't imagine how he's going to explain this.
WHITFIELD: And Keith, this has been very painful. I talked to a couple of people today who are friends with him, still referring to him as a friend even though this has taken place. And we're referring to him by his first name, Ralph, as opposed to calling him the Governor, but talking about how incredibly painful this is, particularly inside barely two years, when the world saw what happened in Charlottesville and how people have tried to heal, Virginians have tried to heal from that and reckon with that.
BOYKIN: Yes, I'm not saying that if you're a friend of his you have to renounce your friendship with him. I'm not saying he's a horrible person. I'm just saying that public service is a privilege, and I believe that Ralph Northam has -- I think he's done enough now or demonstrated enough to show that he does not deserve to continue with that privilege. This was the state, by the way, that was the cradle of the Confederacy. His lieutenant governor, who is African-American, Justin Fairfax, just a few weeks ago set out the ceremony that was supposed to honor Confederate General and hero Robert E. Lee. That's a reflection of just what Virginia's history is about. And this was an incident that took place in 1984. I was a college student in 1984.
WHITFIELD: Me too. I was a sophomore in college.
BOYKIN: I was younger than Northam, and I still knew that blackface was inappropriate, that Klan outfits were inappropriate. I would never have posted something like that on my yearbook page, and if I had seen someone else who posted something like that on their yearbook page, I would have been offended. I'm totally disgusted by the response from Governor Northam and from others who have tried to enable his behavior or excuse his behavior. It's unacceptable. He needs to step down and resign.
SWERDLICK: Fred, can I just echo one thing that Keith said, which is, yes, again, his friends don't have to shun him. His neighbors don't have to shun him. He can sincerely apologize for this and try to seek some kind of redemption if indeed he's one of the people in that photo. But that's different than being the governor, leading the state, being in a position of public trust.
WHITFIELD: You're talking about but the responsibility that comes with leading the state.
WHITFIELD: So Keith, how must the lieutenant governor, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, feel, if he never saw or knew anything about, or there were just no vestiges whatsoever of what that photograph depicts in the governor? What must that moment feel like for him? And then also be now potentially on the precipice of becoming the governor who leads a state depending on what the statement is today?
BOYKIN: I imagine this is a very difficult position for Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor, first, being an African-American, second, trying to be loyal to the governor who he came into office with. But at the same time, he has to be loyal to his own interests, his own family, his culture, his people, his sense of values and morality. And so I don't necessarily expect that Justin Fairfax will do anything to undermine what Ralph Northam says. But I imagine he's probably having a conversation, a very candid conversation with him about what his responsibilities are.
But ultimately this is Ralph Northam's decision. He can try to stay on as long as he wants to. But he is poorly advised if anyone is telling him he should continue on and that this is a sustainable position for him to continue in office as governor after this incredible controversy.
WHITFIELD: Incredible sequence of events here. Keith Boykin, David Swerdlick, thank you so much.
Again, live pictures now inside the governor's mansion, the governor to make a statement. All the reporters, photographers are assembling there. Of course, when it happens, it's scheduled for roughly about 18 minutes from now. When that happens, we'll take you there live. Meantime, still ahead, will President Trump get his border wall?
Democrats say no, but the president is threatening to call a national emergency to get it done. Does all of this back and forth end in another government shutdown? The latest, next.
[14:18:06] WHITFIELD: Right now, live pictures out of Richmond, Virginia, inside the governor's mansion where we expect to hear from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. He's set to address the controversy that has erupted in the past 24 hours after that racist photo surfaced from his medical school yearbook. We're told the governor does not plan to resign but that a statement -- that he will make a statement there from the governor's mansion momentarily. It's scheduled for roughly 12 minutes from now. We'll take that live as it happens.
Meantime, President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are again debating about that funding or lack thereof for a border wall. They haven't met face-to-face since January 9th, but the fighting is nonstop. Here is what the president told CBS's "Face the Nation."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think that she was very rigid, which I would expect, but I think she's very bad for our country. She knows that you need a barrier. She knows that we need border security. She wanted to win a political point. I happen to think it's very bad politics because, basically, she wants open borders. She doesn't mind human trafficking or she wouldn't do this, because you know that traffickers --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She offered over $1 billion dollars for border security.
TRUMP: Excuse me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She offered or $1 billion for border security. She doesn't want the wall.
TRUMP: She's costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars because what's happening is when you have a porous border and when you have drugs pouring, in and when you have people dying all over the country because of people like Nancy Pelosi who don't want to give proper border security for political reasons, she's doing a terrible disservice to our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: The president has threatened to declare a national emergency if Congress does not give him the $5.7 billion to build a border wall. And he's teasing, more like threatening the possibility of making a decision during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
[14:20:00] CNN White House Correspondent Boris Sanchez is in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the president is spending the weekend golfing. Boris, what's the reaction to what the president has to say, particularly about Nancy Pelosi?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fred. Yes, Democrats are firing back at the president, suggesting that he is mischaracterizing their position, saying that the Democrats want open borders, and that Nancy Pelosi is bad for the country. A spokesperson for the House Speaker, Drew Hammill, put out a statement to CNN, shooting back at the president, writing, quote, "President Trump's recklessness did not make us safer. It undermined our security with 35 days of Border Patrol agents, DEA agents, FBI agents, and Homeland Security personnel missing paychecks. Democrats have put forward strong, smart, and effective border security solutions in the bipartisan conference committee, while the president still refuses to take a second shutdown off the table. The president's wild and predictable misrepresentations about Democrats' commitment to border security do nothing to make our country safer."
We should point out Democrats have made some concessions to Republicans on border security, offering up money for enhanced technology at the border. However in negotiations they have not included a single cent for the president's long-promised border wall, and of course as you heard there -- committed to getting that wall. He says that any kind of border security is impossible without one. That's why we're hearing frustration from the president and his threat to declare a national emergency. No national emergency today, though. Take a look at this tweet the president put out. He's golfing today with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. This is the president's first trip to Florida in 2019, Fred.
WHITFIELD: There's the tweet right there. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much. We apologize, it's not your television set at home. Yes, there were some interruptions in the signal there with Boris Sanchez, so that's why it didn't always look clear or sound clear.
Earlier I spoke to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. She sits on the House Homeland Security Committee and opposes the president's plan for a border wall, and she had choice words for the president's attacks on Speaker Pelosi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE, (D) TEXAS: First of all, let me say that the words were shameful and inappropriate for a commander in chief. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is third in line to the presidency. I wish the president would read his Constitution. And she has every right to lead the Congress, to lead the House on views that she has.
What we are saying is we want to be appropriate, thoughtful, and listen to the experts dealing with this question. The president wants a fight. He only wants to be political. He doesn't have any guardrail of leadership that allows him to sit down and understand, to do the best plan. Let me tell you what the president has created.
WHITFIELD: He has changed his jargon in that he'll say, OK, if not a wall, then a fence, a barrier, et cetera, kind of all-encompassing. Does that make a difference? LEE: But he has said all those things, he has thrown them all up
against the wall, and then he comes right back again and says forget about it, I'm going to do an emergency order, which has certain criteria, which includes a national emergency, using the military. And it indicates the country is in jeopardy, which we're not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. So lawmakers have until February 15th to come up with a deal to avoid another partial government shutdown.
Coming up next, all eyes on Virginia as Democratic Governor Ralph Northam prepares to address a racist photo found in his medical school yearbook. He's expected to speak at any moment. We'll bring that to you live as it happens. Stay with us.
[14:27:42] WHITFIELD: At any moment now, Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam is expected to speak about a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook. Lawmakers from both parties are calling for Northam to resign after seeing that photo. A spokeswoman for the governor says, however, Northam will not be resigning.
And you're looking with the smaller images down there at a live view of inside the governor's mansion where he's invited all the reporters in to hear the statement that he's going to be making at any moment now.
CNN Correspondent Ryan Nobles has been following the story as well. So Ryan, we're hearing reports the governor has already tried to walk back an admission from yesterday which appeared as though he was acknowledging being in the photo, only to today say, I don't have anything to do with that photo, that's not me in there. So which is it?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, I think that is what a lot of people are hoping to get the answer to in terms of these new questions that have been raised this morning when the governor speaks here in the next few minutes. He was pretty clear yesterday, in the two different public statements he made, that he did believe that he was one of the two people in this photo. But at that time, he said that he was prepared to stay on.
Then throughout the day yesterday, the story began to change a little bit. He did meet with various elected leaders in Virginia, including the very influential Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which it appeared that almost all of the Democrats in Virginia were following the lead of. And I'm told in that meeting with the Legislative Black Caucus, they specifically pressed Governor Northam as to which of these people he was in this photo. Was he the person who appeared in blackface or was he the person who was hiding beneath the KKK hood? The governor simple said he didn't remember, he didn't know of which one of those two people he was. And I'm told that that actually was something that concerned this
group of legislators. They ultimately left the governor, they deliberated on their own, and then they came back and made what they described as the painful decision to ask him to resign, and they did tell Governor Northam that face-to-face.
And it was widely believed, I went to bed last night having talked to all my sources with the real belief that we were going to wake up today with an announcement that the governor was going to make, going to have a press conference at some point today and announce his resignation. But something changed, Fred, something happened this morning that really changed the governor's thinking.
[14:30:02] In fact, we're told that he spoke to some of his old classmates from his medical school, which this yearbook comes from, and many of them said that they believed that some of these pictures were mixed up, that they were in the wrong place in this yearbook. And Northam himself is said to not remember taking this picture at all. He also doesn't remember the production of this yearbook, and he believes that he did not contribute to the article in this yearbook which features him and is about him. So now Northam is now beginning to question whether or not he's the one in this photo, and he actually believes he is not either one of these two people.
Now, the other weird kind of addition to all of this, Fred, is that one of the few groups in Virginia that had kind of held back on asking the governor to resign was the Virginia Democratic Party. Their Chairperson is Susan Swecker who is a very prominent Democrat leader in Virginia. They apparently had some sort of a meeting with the governor this morning where he informed them that he was not going to resign, and they took the remarkable step of putting out a statement saying that they disagree with the governor's decision here not to resign, and that they believe he should still resign.
So what we're told, Fred, is that he's going to come out and make a statement. They've said nothing about him answering questions. I think this is going to be -- yes, it's going to be a very important to see how he handles this. And that's going to play a big part in how long he's able to stay in his position.
WHITFIELD: That will be remarkable if he doesn't take questions, after inviting other reporters, photographers to come into the mansion to hear the statement. And naturally he has to expect that there is going to be a question that says, if in that 30-year span between 1984 and now, at some point you saw that picture, and if you are now saying that you weren't in that picture, that someone within the Eastern Virginia Medical School arbitrarily grabbed this picture, put it on your page where your name is, you're a physician, you're seeking political office, and you never knew about -- or you did see that image and you didn't object to it then, why would you wait until now, on this stage as governor, to now address it and say you have no association with the picture, after last night you referenced the photo and saying it does not reflect the person I am today. There are a lot of questions.
NOBLES: Right, and I think that is what has a lot of Virginia Democrats in particular very concerned about how the way the governor is handling this situation. If he at any point during the process had thought that it wasn't him, why put out the statement saying that this is indeed me, then put out a subsequent video statement saying it is me, and then go and ask for an apology and say that you would like to stay in your position? Why wouldn't you have waited at least a short beat of time to try and exactly figure out everything that you possibly could about this photo?
And I think the other interesting part of about this, Fred, is he was facing intense pressure right from the very beginning. The Virginia Republican Party called for him to resign almost immediately. There were many prominent Virginia Democrats -- in fact, the real first level of pressure came from this batch of 2020 candidates that are running for president that asked him to step down, which I don't necessarily think plays too big of a role in his decision at a Virginia level. But it just created this swell of controversy that surrounded the governor and his office.
But even amidst all of that, Fred, I think it's important to point out that Ralph Northam is a very well-liked individual by both Republicans and Democrats. I've known him for a long time, I've covered him from way back to when he was a state senator representing the Norfolk area. And they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I'm not just talking about Democrats. I'm talking about Republicans, I'm talking about African-American members of the legislature, prominent mayors in the state. And they were just not happy with the way this conversation went, with the various opportunities that he had to explain himself.
So I think that's part of what many people are going to be looking for today, is how is it that yesterday you were readily willing to admit it was you, then didn't really have a good explanation for what you were thinking at that period of your life. You were in your mid-20s, you were at medical school, this is 1984. This isn't 1884. Not that it would be excusable at any period of time. And now all of a sudden you wake up with virtually everyone asking you to step down, and now you have a completely different narrative. I think that more than anything is what he's going to have to explain in this media opportunity. And we don't know exactly how he's going to do that.
WHITFIELD: You mentioned you've known him a long time as a reporter, following his political career. I spoke with a couple of people earlier who still refer to him as a friend, and they said this is incredibly hurtful and painful to have seen the image last night.
[14:35:09] And after even talking with him in the past 24 hours, being further pained by the way in which he is talking about the it and what he said to them in private conversations. So this statement really will be potentially impactful on so many levels. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much. Stick around. We're going to continue to talk with you.
Meantime, it is just half past the hour. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Fredericka Whitfield. Live pictures right now out of Richmond, Virginia, where we expect to hear from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. He has invited reporters and photographers into the mansion right there to address this controversy that has erupted in the past 24 hours after a racist photo surfaced from his medical school yearbook at the Eastern Virginia Medical School. We are told the governor does not plan to resign. That coming from a spokesperson from his office. But instead a statement will be made.
Earlier I spoke with LaMont Bagby, a Democrat member -- he's the chairman, actually, of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, who said he had just spoken with the governor about the photo. Take a listen to my conversation with him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So am I hearing from you that because of the commonalities, common mission that you all have shared on policy, that your conversation didn't go as far as saying it's time for you to resign? You did say that this is very hurtful and painful.
LAMONT BAGBY, (D) VIRGINIA LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS: Well, to be frank with you, and to be honest with you, we had two conversations. One conversation was us having a frank conversation directly to him, telling him how we felt. We then went back to the capital and had a conversation amongst the full caucus, and decided that it was in the best interests of the commonwealth to return to the governor and ask for his resignation.
And at that time, we walked back over, just a smaller group walked back over to the governor, had a conversation with him. And at that point I think he understood. And I think he understood because we all agreed that it's not about us. It's about the individuals that we are serving, the individuals that we come to help. And I think the governor agreed that if you're ever in a position where you're hurting those individuals, it's time to step aside and allow the commonwealth as a whole to begin to heal. And I don't think we're going to be able to heal until the governor resigns.
WHITFIELD: So after his response, or his statement last night, there were some critics who say it was really short of an apology or ownership of that picture and the spirit from which it comes. And then today, reportedly a source is saying that the governor says that he wasn't in that picture at all. And now we know that there is a scheduled 2:30 statement coming from the governor. What is your gut instinct, and based on the relationship, the friendship that you've had with the governor, say that he will say today at 2:30? Do you think he will be resigning? Do you think he'll be offering for forgiveness and wanting to continue on as governor? What do you think?
BAGBY: Well, my gut is turning right now, so I'm not listening to it right now. We're all shaken up about this. But I hope the governor will make the right decision and do what's in the best interests of the commonwealth, and we can turn the corner and start the healing process.
WHITFIELD: What do you think the right decision is?
BAGBY: To resign. WHITFIELD: And --
BAGBY: And -- go ahead.
WHITFIELD: I was going to say, and what do you think the lieutenant governor is thinking? And what do you think patients, patients of color, black patients and their children, are thinking today after either having a friendship or being treated by him as a pediatrician, as a doctor, and now seeing this image on his page from his medical school years?
BAGBY: Well, I think everyone is reconciling this, from his friends back home, his friends in the general assembly. I know the lieutenant governor considers him a friend. They campaigned together, they crossed all parts of the commonwealth. They just went on a campaign tour across the country trying to help other lieutenant governors and governors get elected in the country. And so it's -- you spend that much time with somebody and you have an opportunity to see who they are, and you're laser focused on some of the work that we do that is so -- it takes so much out of you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:40:04] WHITFIELD: All right, in walking Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam to make a statement. Let's listen in from Richmond.
GOV. RALPH NORTHAM, (D) VIRGINIA: Good afternoon. Thank you all for being here. I'm pleased to be joined by my wife Pam. Pam, thank you for being here as well.
There has been much public discussion about racist and offensive materials that appear on my page of the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. And I believe it is important for Virginians to hear directly from me, and to -- and for me to answer as many questions as are necessary about these circumstances.
With that in mind, I would like to read a statement about these events, and then I will be glad to take your questions.
Yesterday, I took responsibility for content that appeared on my page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook that was clearly racist and offensive. I am not and will not excuse the content of the photo. It was offensive, racist, and despicable. When my staff showed me the photo in question yesterday, I was seeing it for the first time. I did not purchase the EVMS yearbook, and I was unaware of what was on my page.
When I was confronted with the images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page, but I believed then and now that I am not either of the people in that photo.
I stand by my statement of apology to the many Virginians who were hurt by seeing this content on a yearbook content that belongs to me. It is disgusting. It is offensive. It is racist. And it was my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published in the first place.
I recognize that many people will find this difficult to believe. The photo appears with others I submitted, on a page with my name on it. Even in my own statement yesterday, I conceded that, based on the evidence presented to me at the time, the most likely explanation, that it was indeed me in the photo.
In the hours since I made my statement yesterday, I reflected with my family and classmates from the time and affirmed my conclusion that I am not the person in that photo. While I did not appear in this photo, I am not surprised by its appearance in the EVMS yearbook. In the place and time where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognize as abhorrent today were commonplace. My belief that I did not wear that costume or attend that party stems in part from my clear memory of other mistakes I made in the same period of my life.
That same year, I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume. I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that. It is because my memory of that episode is so vivid that I truly do not believe I am in the picture in my yearbook. You remember these things.
As I began my career and met my wife Pam, I also began to develop a stronger understanding of this country's history and the harm that certain actions and attitudes cause. That does not excuse my behaviors up to that point, but it did offer me an opportunity to change and to grow, and I took it. I pursued my career as a soldier, a physician, and as a public servant because I wanted to help people. The experiences I had in each of those chapters and the people I met along the way helped me form a set of values that defined the person I am now and the way I aspire to lead this commonwealth as your governor.
In some ways, my personal history mirrors that of this commonwealth. There are actions and behaviors in my past that were hurtful. But, like Virginia, I have also made significant progress in how I approach these issues. I am far from perfect, and I can always strive to do more.
[14:45:00] But I have devoted my entire life, my career in the army, as a pediatrician, and in public service, to making life better for all people no matter who they are. Today, I am not ready to ask Virginians to grant me their forgiveness for my past actions. I also do not fully expect that they will immediately believe my account of these events. Right now, I am simply asking for the opportunity to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person I was is not the man I am today. I am asking for the opportunity to earn your forgiveness.
If I were to listen to the voices calling on me to resign my office today, I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I could avoid an honest conversation about harmful actions from my past. I cannot in good conscience choose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile. I took an oath to uphold this office and serve the people of this commonwealth to the best of my ability. As long as I believe I can effectively fulfill that task, I intend to continue doing the business of Virginia.
I believe this moment can be the first small step to open a discussion about these difficult issues and how they contribute to the greater racism and discrimination that defines so much of our history. This very house stands as a monument to the dark and complicated history of this commonwealth. These walls are adorned with portraits of men and women who owned slaves, actively oppressed people of color, as well as men and women who stood tall and advanced the causes of equality and racial justice in the commonwealth and this country.
In that discussion, it will not be my role to speak to Virginians about these issues. My responsibility is to listen, to learn, and to continue to grow as a man and as a leader. I am ready for an honest conversation about racial injustice and the need for real reconciliation, real justice, and real equality.
I believe the agenda this administration is pursuing clearly demonstrates the progress both I and our commonwealth have made since the darkest chapters of our history. I promise to fight for a Virginia that works better for all people and our commitment to economic justice, access to health care, criminal justice reform, educational equity, and a clean environment reflect those priorities.
As this conversation moves forward, I want to hear from Virginians from every walk of life about how we can fight even harder to build the Virginia that they deserve.
Before I take questions, I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the many people who have been hurt by this episode and mistakes that I have made in the past. I am ready to earn your forgiveness, and I am ready to begin today.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions. Yes, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're saying that you had no idea this racist photo existed before it surfaced 24 hours ago?
NORTHAM: The photo in the EVMS yearbook?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
NORTHAM: That's correct. I was in the United States Army while I was in medical school. I knew where I was going upon graduation from medical school. I was doing rotations out of the state. I had nothing to do with the preparation of the yearbook, nor did I buy one. And so this was the first time -- yesterday evening was the first time I saw this photo. It was shocking and it was horrific.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you account for one of your nicknames that's listed in the VMI yearbook in 1981, "Coon-man"? What's your explanation for that?
NORTHAM: My main nickname in high school and in college was "goose," because when my voice was changing, I would change an octave. There were two individuals, as best I can recollect, at VMI, they were a year ahead of me, that called me "Coon-man." I don't know their motives or intent. I know who they are. But that was the extent of that. And it ended up in the yearbook, and I regret that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before you spoke, you had almost the entire Democratic establishment calling for your resignation, saying it's Justin Fairfax who deserves to stand where you're standing now. What's your response to that?
NORTHAM: You know, I think we have done a great job over the last year. We've worked on a lot of the challenges that I just outlined. This has hurt a little people. It's hurt a lot of people in our party. I suspect it's hurt people in the opposing party. And it's hurt Virginians.
[14:50:07] And I want to assure everybody, number one, that that is not my picture, that is not my person on that picture in the yearbook. We will continue to lead. We will continue to talk about the issues that are important. But we also will have a conversation as we move forward about trust. And I have been a man of honor. As you know I was the president of the Honor Court at VMI. I ask my colleagues, I ask Virginians to accept my word, to realize I have made mistakes in the past, to offer forgiveness, and then let's all as a commonwealth move forward.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You talked there about some incident in San Antonio --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- you realized that had actually been in blackface at some time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know what year that was and what context around that event?
NORTHAM: I remember exactly. It was in 1984, my first year in San Antonio upon graduation from medical school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were in the military?
NORTHAM: I was.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had you ever posed in a KKK --
NORTHAM: Absolutely not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's two people in that photo.
NORTHAM: Absolutely not. There is no way that I have ever been in a KKK uniform. I am not the person in that uniform and I am not the person to the right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you talk about believing that you were getting an opportunity to be an effective leader. How much time do you think we have, or when will you know that you're not effective?
NORTHAM: It's a great question. And we're going to move from today. We'll take one day at a time. Obviously, we'll have discussions with our caucuses, with the Republican caucuses, with the people of Virginia. And as long as I feel that I can lead, I will continue to do that. If I reach a point where I am not comfortable with that, then obviously we will sit down and have that discussion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think you can win over the support of your own party at this point? Democrats are saying they don't want to go forward with you.
NORTHAM: Yes, a lot of it is communication, and it starts today. I've obviously been talking to a lot of my colleagues. But it really starts today, I think, to correct the record and to let them know that I am not the person in that photo that caused this story yesterday. I have made mistakes in my past, as I admitted. But I am a person of my word. I will continue to work closely.
I have great friends on both sides of the aisle, and as I said earlier, this has been hurtful. And that's why I reached out last night and called people and apologized. But I will continue to work as hard as I can to maintain their faith in me, to maintain my ability to lead, and we'll all hopefully work together and move forward.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, at your inauguration, your minister, Reverend Jones --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have it on the record that you would only seek wise counsel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that was part of what you were praying, and that God would guide your thoughts and your steps.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us who you sought for wise counsel for this decision today?
NORTHAM: There is no question. And I am a strong believer in God. I'm a member of the First Baptist Church in Capeville, Virginia. My pastor, Reverend Jones, is actually here with us today. But obviously one of the ways that I have been able to, I believe, govern successfully is to listen. I have a great cabinet. I have great relationship with people on both sides of the aisle. I am very secure in where I believe we need to take Virginia. And so as we have moved through this last 24 hours, I have spoken and consulted a lot of people. I have prayed about this, and I will continue to pray. And obviously I couldn't stand here without the support of my wife, Pam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, some Democrats have said that it's selfish of you to continue in office, to work out your own situation here at their expense during an election year when they had hopes of making gains in the legislature. Can you talk about that and what you would say to them?
NORTHAM: Greg (ph), I think the first thing, why I felt so strongly about this statement and being here today, is to set the record straight. And this started last night. We're now about 24 hours into this. It started with me being presented a picture from a yearbook that I had never seen before, that was horrific. And I reached out and apologized to my colleagues. I released two statements, as you know. And all I can do is what I've always done, and that's to be honest, to really to be able to listen, to be open with people.
[14:55:03] And I think to the previous question, Greg (ph), I plan to continue to lead. If we get to the point where we feel that we're not effective, that we're not efficient, not only for our caucuses but the commonwealth of Virginia, then we will revisit this and make decisions.
Yes, Amy (ph).
NORTHAM: The answer to your last question is no, he hasn't. Justin and I have a very, very close relationship. He is a wonderful person. He is doing a great job at lieutenant governor. I have spoken to him in person for a good period of time yesterday afternoon after this story broke, and I believe at least three times by phone I have kept him apprised of what's going on. He has been very supportive. And he will continue to be supportive. He is a wonderful person. And you know, the people of Virginia elect the lieutenant governor, put faith in the lieutenant governor in the event he needs to take over as governor. He'll be ready to do that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, you said that you recall the incident you did dress in blackface. Why do you remember that incident so vividly and not this one?
NORTHAM: The reason that I so vividly don't remember this one is because it didn't happen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why would you take credit or apologize for it?
NORTHAM: And that's where I think we need clarification. I take credit for recognizing that this was a horrific photo that was on my page, with my name, Ralph Northam, above. I looked at it. My first impression, actually, that this couldn't be me. But there was so much hurt that I was feeling, people were calling. So I reached out and apologized to people for this very picture being on my page. And I have continued to discuss that as we have gone forward. And what has happened is that last night, I finally had a chance to
sit down and look at the photograph in detail. It is definitely not me. I can tell by looking at it. I have had friends also look at it and tell me it's not me. I have also had a classmate who I discussed this with this morning. We talked about this situation. And I said, is there a possibility, you think, that someone could have put a photo on the wrong page? She said it happened on numerous pages in this very yearbook. So I still don't have a copy of the yearbook. We are in the process of obtaining that. We're going to look through, we're going to continue to gather evidence in the coming days. And I think all of you will be reassured to see that I am not in that photograph.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, you said at the San Antonio party, you darkened your face. I just want to be perfectly clear. Were you in blackface?
NORTHAM: I wasn't. I'll tell you exactly what I did, Alan (ph). I dressed up in a -- what's his name, the singer -- Michael Jackson, excuse me, that's why I have Pam with me. I had the shoes, I had a glove, and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put on my cheeks. And the reason I used a very little bit is because, I don't know if anybody has ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off. But it was a dance contest. I had always liked Michael Jackson. I actually won the contest because I had learned how to do the moonwalk.
But then let me tell you what happened, Alan (ph). I have a very close friend who was my assistant during the campaign. I don't think he would mind me telling you his name. His name is Seth Opoku-Yeboah. And during some of our long rides around the commonwealth, the very issue of blackfacing came up. And he really did a good job communicating to me why that's so offensive. And it was actually during that conversation, I said, you know, Seth, I put some polish on my face, I competed in a dance contest dressed up as Michael Jackson. And I said, I assume you probably would think that's offensive. He said, I would. And I said, you know what, Seth, I appreciate you being open with me. I apologize for what I've done in the past, and I can promise you I'll never do that again in the future.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We talked to some other students at EVMS. There submitted their photos for the yearbook. There are four pictures on your page.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you choose all four of them, did you choose three of them? And then you're saying the last one is not you. Are you saying that it's -- are you saying the last photo --
NORTHAM: Yes, there are three photos. If I could look at the picture, but I think there are three photos.