Pressure is mounting on Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam to resign.
Northam, who apologized earlier Friday for appearing in a racist yearbook photo showing one person dressed in blackface and another in the Ku Klux Klan’s signature white hood and robes, became a politician with few allies after a series of calls from prominent Virginia Democrats loosened the governor’s hold on his job.
Statements from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia House and Senate Democrats and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe – who was governor when Northam was lieutenant governor – ratcheted up the tension on Friday night. In the span of 30 minutes, the three groups and Northam’s predecessor all announced – after a series of conference calls and meetings with the governor – that they believed the governor must step aside.
The pressure on Northam to step down continued into Saturday ahead of his expected news conference with the Democratic Party of Virginia calling for his immediate resignation.
“We made the decision to let Governor Northam do the correct thing and resign this morning - we have gotten word he will not do so this morning,” party chair Susan Swecker said in a statement, adding, “He no longer has our confidence or our support. Governor Northam must end this chapter immediately, step down, and let Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax heal Virginia’s wounds and move us forward.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus initially declined to call for Northam’s ouster on Friday, saying they were “still processing what we have seen about the Governor” but labeling it “disgusting, reprehensible and offensive.”
But in a major moment later Friday evening, the caucus called on Northam to resign in a shift that signaled he was losing some key supporters.
“We just finished meeting with the governor. We fully appreciate all that he has contributed to our Commonwealth. But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as Governor. It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing,” the caucus said in a statement.
Northam’s meeting with the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus
Del. LaMont Bagby, a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus told CNN Saturday that during their meeting with Northam Friday night, that the governor could not recall when the racist photo was taken that appeared in his medical school yearbook.
When pressed by the caucus, Northam said he did not know which person he was in the photo – the person in blackface or the person in the KKK outfit.
While he thinks both are offensive, Bagby said he was much more bothered by the KKK outfit.
Bagby told CNN that the governor was apologetic and conciliatory – that he listened carefully to the concerns of the caucus and did not in any way defend the photo or the actions that led to it.
Bagby said the caucus informed the governor in a face-to-face conversation that they would be calling for his resignation.
The governor told them he would hold a news conference on Saturday – but did not say if he would resign.
Bagby said he likes Northam and believes he is a good man, but is hopeful that he will do the right thing by the Commonwealth and step down, adding, “I suspect he will.”
Virginia Democrats pull their support
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus’ statement Friday was followed by a series of others that marked the moment the floor of support fell out from under Northam.
McAuliffe and Northam had a “long talk” before the former governor’s statement went out, according to a source with knowledge of the call.
McAuliffe informed Northam during the call that he was going to call on him to step down, the source said.
Virginia House Democrats, a key block of support for the second-year governor, also pulled away from the governor late Friday.
“We are so deeply saddened by the news that has been revealed today,” said the caucus. “We regret to say that we are no longer confident in the Governor’s representation of Virginians. Though it brings us no joy to do so, we must call for Governor Northam’s resignation.”
Virginia Senate Democrats added that they were “shocked, saddened and offended” by the picture.
“The Ralph Northam we know is a pediatric neurologist, a dedicated public servant, and a committed husband and father,” the Senate Democrats said. “Nevertheless, it is with heavy hearts that we have respectfully asked them to step down.”
On Saturday, Virginia House Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in calling for Northam’s resignation.
“We withheld judgement last night while awaiting an explanation from the Governor believing the gravity of the situation deserved prudence and deliberation,” the statement read. “We agree with the powerful words of our colleagues in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and believe that because of this photo the Governor has lost the confidence of the citizens he serves.”
Virginia congressional delegation reacts, with some not ready to call for Northam’s resignation
The series of damning statements came after a number of high-profile Virginia Democrats had indicated that they were not ready to call for Northam’s resignation, leaving some Democrats to believe the governor could hang on.
Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner refrained from calling on him to resign. Both said they were shocked and offended by the photos, but in separate statements both said it was time for the governor to think about what comes next for him and to listen to those he has offended.
“The racist photo from Governor Northam’s 1984 yearbook is horrible. This causes pain in a state and a country where centuries of racism have already left an open wound,” Kaine said in a statement. “I hope the Governor—whose career as an Army officer, pediatrician and public official has a