WASHINGTON — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s political career faces an uncertain future amid mounting pressure from local and national leaders to resign.
In a Saturday afternoon news conference, Northam said he does not “truly” believe he is the person in a racist yearbook photo that emerged Friday — but in the hours that followed, the calls to resign from Northam’s Democratic colleagues only intensified.
See reactions from state and national figures below.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “First he said it was [him in the photo]. If it wasn’t him in the photo, he should have said that on Friday. … If it isn’t you, you come out immediately and say ‘This is not me.’ So I can’t understand I can’t understand what’s going on but I do know this: Ralph is a good, moral, decent man and may have made some mistakes in his past. We all have made mistakes. Ralph will do the right thing for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I think that will happen relatively soon.
“… As governor, this is your busiest time … You’ve got to work as one unit to move your commonwealth forward, and he’s just not going to have the ability to do it.”
U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va.: “We need leaders who will bring us together instead of driving us apart. While it was proper for Governor Northam to apologize, there is no excuse for this type of photograph then or now. Unfortunately, the existence of this photograph does not bring us together. I ask Governor Northam to resign. This isn’t about politics, this is about what is right and wrong.”
U.S. Reps. Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer, D-Va., in a joint statement: “We expected Governor Northam to resign [Saturday] morning. Nothing we have heard since changes our view that his resignation is the only way forward for the Commonwealth.
“Virginia has a painful past where racism was too often not called out for its evil. The only way to overcome that history is to speak and act with absolute moral clarity. It is for that reason that [g]overnor must step aside and allow the process of healing to begin under the leadership of Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax.”
U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.: “The bigotry depicted in this photograph is appalling. There should always be serious consequences for actions that demean, intimidate, or threaten our African-American communities. Such conduct is unacceptable for any Virginian — whether occurring in the past, present, or future. Governor Northam must resign and fully acknowledge the painful past these images evoke. Bigotry has no place in Virginia.”
U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., whip of the Congressional Black Caucus: “I am so deeply disappointed and dismayed by the horrific picture of Governor Northam … Four hundred years ago, Africans arrived in this country, enslaved and kept as slaves for over two hundred years. Systemic racism is still endemic today in every part of America. Virginia has a particularly sordid history with racism from the first enslaved Africans on our shores, to the capital of the Confederacy to Massive resistance to the struggles African-American Virginians face today.
“In light of that stain on our Commonwealth and the work that still needs to be done, I ask the governor to step aside. While I acknowledge his efforts on behalf of all Virginians and the good he has done as a senator, as our lieutenant governor and now as governor, Virginians have too much to overcome and too much healing yet in front of us.”
On Sunday’s “Meet the Press” on NBC: “He’s lost the authority to lead; he’s lost the authority to govern. He has to resign. … Let’s assume, without conceding, that [blackface] was indeed commonplace [in 1984]. Slavery was commonplace; that doesn’t make it right. … If blackface was commonplace in 1984, that doesn’t make it right. And Ralph should have known that.”
U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va.: “We’ve spoken twice since this story broke, and I encouraged him to resign because it’s what’s best for Virginia. This is a difficult time for our commonwealth, but I know we can move forward and start healing under the leadership of [Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax].”
U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va.: “I am disappointed and saddened by the recently discovered photos involving Governor Northam. The racist behavior depicted in the photos has no place in Virginia, and I strongly condemn it. I hope the [g]overnor will make the best decision for the future of our Commonwealth and step down immediately.”
U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va.: “Governor Northam’s press conference on Saturday confirmed the concerns I had when the photo first surfaced; his past actions are disturbing, reprehensible, and go against the American values that we fight to uphold. … As a fellow public servant, I always look to do what is best for Virginia and it would be my hope that the [g]overnor would do the same.”
U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va.: “I would not accept this behavior or this apology from an employee in my business, and I expect more from my [g]overnor. [Gov. Northam], your actions remain unacceptable and I call on you again to resign.”
Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, Virginia’s U.S. senators and former governors, and Rep. Bobby Scott said in a joint statement that after having watched the Saturday news conference, they “no longer believe (Northam) can effectively serve” as governor.
“After we watched his press conference today, we called Governor Northam to tell him that we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign. Governor Northam has served the people of the Commonwealth faithfully for many years, but the events of the past 24 hours have inflicted immense pain and irrevocably broken the trust Virginians must have in their leaders. He should step down and allow the Commonwealth to begin healing.”
Their earlier statements are below:
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.: “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. I hope the Governor — whose career as an Army officer, pediatrician and public official has always manifested a commitment to justice and equality for all — now takes the time to listen to those he has hurt and reflect on how to move forward.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.: “This photo is shocking and deeply offensive, all the more so because of Virginia’s long and painful history of racism and violence toward African Americans. The Governor must now listen to the people and communities he has hurt, and carefully consider what comes next.”
President Donald Trump on Saturday tweeted about Northam’s controversy, calling it “unforgivable.”
Democrat Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia just stated, “I believe that I am not either of the people in that photo.” This was 24 hours after apologizing for appearing in the picture and after making the most horrible statement on “super” late term abortion. Unforgivable!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2019
Ed Gillespie, who ran for Governor of the Great State of Virginia against Ralph Northam, must now be thinking Malpractice and Dereliction of Duty with regard to his Opposition Research Staff. If they find that terrible picture before the election, he wins by 20 points!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2019
NAACP President Derrick Johnson: “Black face in any manner is always racist and never okay. No matter the party affiliation, we can not stand for such behavior, which is why the NAACP is calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.”
Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday: “He’s been completely dishonest and disingenuous. He knew this picture was there, and he could have come clean and talked to African-Americans he’s close to decades ago.”
Eastern Virginia Medical School President Richard V. Homan: “We share the outrage, alarm and sadness voiced by our alumni, the press and many on social media regarding the picture published in the 1984 student yearbook. The picture is shockingly abhorrent and absolutely antithetical to the principles, morals and values we hold and espouse of our educational and research institution and our professions. Racism and discrimination in any form is not acceptable.
The near-universal calls for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to step down have political observers looking at whether — or even if — officials could impeach him or remove him through other means. Neither option has ever been used against a sitting Virginia governor.
Democratic Governors Association: “The photo of Ralph Northam’s yearbook that surfaced yesterday is both racist and inexcusable … It is time for Gov. Northam to step aside and allow Virginia to move forward.”
National Education Association and Virginia Education Association: “There is no place for Gov. Ralph Northam’s racist actions. Both the National Education Association and the Virginia Education Association strongly condemn them. This goes beyond political affiliation. We must set a better example for our students. The public must have trust and confidence that their elected officials will fight for them, and that trust has been irreparably damaged. Ralph Northam should resign.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden: “There is no place for racism in America. Governor Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately, Justin Fairfax is the leader Virginia needs now.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: “The photo is racist and contrary to fundamental American values. I join my colleagues in Virginia calling on Governor Northam to do the right thing so that the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia can heal and move forward.”
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.: “Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government. The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.: “These images arouse centuries of anger, anguish, and racist violence and they’ve eroded all confidence in Gov. Northam’s ability to lead. We should expect more from our elected officials. He should resign.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.: “There aren’t two sets of rules for our friends and our foes: Right is right and wrong is wrong. Americans deserve to be respected by their leaders, and racism cannot be excused in our government or anywhere else. Having seen the photo, I believe Governor Northam should resign.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.: “These racist images are deeply disturbing. Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country and must not be tolerated, especially from our leaders – Republican or Democrat. Northam must resign.”
Julian Castro, former San Antonio mayor: “It doesn’t matter if he is a Republican or a Democrat. This behavior was racist and unconscionable. Governor Northam should resign.”
Virginia Democratic Party: “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.
We stand with Democrats across Virginia and the country calling him to immediately resign. 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. We can think of no better person than Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to do so.”
Virginia House Democrats: “We continue to echo the calls of our colleagues in the Legislative Black Caucus for the [g]overnor to resign. Regardless of the [g]overnor’s account of whether or not he was in the photo, he has lost the trust of constituents and elected officials. A leader must have the confidence of the people in order to effectively govern, and unfortunately, that is no longer the case for Governor Northam.”
Previous statement: “We are so deeply saddened by the news that has been revealed today. We are having trouble reconciling our experience with Governor Northam with what we see in this photo. The Governor Northam we know is a great friend and ally, who has served and dedicated himself to our Commonwealth and the nation.
“However, constituents’ trust in their elected officials is paramount. 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 GOP: “What Ralph Northam did was unforgivable. Given his statements on the right to life coupled with the most recent revelations, he has lost the moral authority to continue to govern and should resign immediately.”
Virginia Legislative Black Caucus:
Original statement, 7:30 p.m. Friday: “We are still processing what we have seen about the Governor but unequivocally say that what has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible and offensive. We feel complete betrayal. The legacy of slavery, racism, and Jim Crow has been an albatross around the necks of African Americans for over 400 years. These pictures rip off the scabs of an excruciatingly painful history and are a piercing reminder of this nation’s sins.”
11 p.m. Friday: “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.”
Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus:
“After seeing the yearbook pictures that surfaced of Governor Northam today, we were shocked, saddened and offended. Virginia has a complicated racial history and past, and those pictures certainly reflect that. Black face was used to ridicule African Americans and the Klan was a source of terror and intimidation. The racism engendered by these images was real then and resurrected by these images today. We are beyond disappointed.
The Ralph Northam we know is a pediatric neurologist, a dedicated public servant, and a committed husband and father. Nevertheless, it is with heavy hearts that we have respectfully asked him to step down.”
House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights: “We withheld judgement last night while awaiting an explanation from the Governor believing the gravity of the situation deserved prudence and deliberation. 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. While we respect the Governor’s lifetime of service, his ability to lead and govern is permanently impaired and the interests of the Commonwealth necessitate his resignation.”
Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria: “I call upon Governor Ralph Northam to resign. This is a painful call for me. I genuinely like Ralph and Pam. And I do not for a moment believe he is racist today. But I have no doubt he was racist 35 years ago. There is no excuse for wearing black face or a KKK hood. None. Particularly not at age 25 in 1984. I’m still shocked and surprised and deeply disappointed. Northam must have known that picture was there, and I’m frankly surprised he ran for office in the first place.”
Sen. Jeremy McPike, 29th District: “It is tough to reconcile what Virginia has been through recently — from the events in Charlottesville to Corey Stewart dressing in costume under the confederate flag. I have denounced them both. I do not think Governor Northam has any of this in his heart anymore and know him to be honorable … Governor Ralph Northam has been committed to public service for many years and has done good things for the Commonwealth but I believe stepping down at this time is the honorable thing to do.”
Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave: “Today is a sad day for Virginia. Despite his many years of public service, Governor Ralph Northam can no longer effectively lead and govern. Given the fact of Virginia’s past history of racial intolerance, and the efforts we have made to bring our citizens together over the years, it is necessary for Governor Northam to resign in the best interest of all Virginians. His resignation will allow us to move forward together and is certainly the best course for the Commonwealth.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser: “If Governor Northam loves Virginia the way I know he does, he will resign to allow the Commonwealth to focus on its place in addressing the history of slavery and racism in America.”
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