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Northam faces mounting calls to resign over KKK, blackface photo

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is facing mounting calls to resign after he acknowledged appearing in a picture showing a man wearing blackface and another dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

Multiple Democratic lawmakers and 2020 White House hopefuls have joined the Virginia Republican Party in calling for Northam to step down Friday night after the governor confirmed that he was in the photo that emerged hours earlier.

Democratic members of Congress from Virginia began calling Northam on Friday night and privately urged him to resign, a source familiar with the phone calls told The Hill. Multiple Virginia lawmakers, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus and Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, have said he should step aside.

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“I don’t see the governor’s got any other choice other than to step aside,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), the vice chairman of the Democratic Governors Association who is set to lead the national group in 2020, said on MSNBC.

“I say it with a heavy heart because I know him and I believe he’s a good man, but this is … disqualifying. Particularly at this moment in time and with the division in our country.”

Northam's predecessor, Terry McAuliffe (D), also called on him to step down, along with the NAACP, Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, the progressive group MoveOn and the liberal website the Daily Kos, among others.

“This has been a heartbreaking day. Ralph Northam is my friend and he served well as my Lt. Governor and as Governor. His actions on display in this photo were racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age and any time,” McAuliffe tweeted. 

“The situation that he has put himself and the Commonwealth of Virginia in is untenable. It's time for Ralph to step down, and for the Commonwealth to move forward,” added McAuliffe, who left office last year.

Several Democratic presidential candidates called on the Virginia governor to step down in the wake of the photo, including Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris pushes for support for cities in coronavirus relief package This week: Senate takes up coronavirus relief after minimum wage setback Brown vows Democrats will 'find a way' to raise minimum wage MORE (Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: Senators push for changes as chamber nears vote on .9T relief bill | Warren offers bill to create wealth tax Sanders vows to force vote on minimum wage Warren's wealth tax would cost 100 richest Americans billion MORE (Mass.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

"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," Harris tweeted.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Senators push for changes as chamber nears vote on .9T relief bill | Warren offers bill to create wealth tax Sanders vows to force vote on minimum wage No. 2 Senate Democrat shoots down overruling parliamentarian on minimum wage MORE (I-Vt.) on Saturday called on Northam to resign and urged Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to step in and "begin a new day for Virginia." Sanders is thought to be mulling a bid for the White House.

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Little known Senate referee to play major role on Biden relief plan Bipartisan group of lawmakers proposes bill to lift rule putting major financial burden on USPS MORE (D-Hawaii) echoed those calls, writing on Twitter that Northam "has lost any ability to govern effectively."

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRepublican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote Clinton, Pelosi holding online Women's Day fundraiser with Chrissy Teigen, Amanda Gorman What good are the intelligence committees? MORE (D-Calif.) echoed Virginia Democrats' calls for Northam to step aside, condemning the photo as "racist and contrary fundamental American values."

"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," Pelosi tweeted Saturday morning.

Not everyone immediately joined in calling for Northam to resign.

Virginia's two U.S. senators — Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineWarner: White House should 'keep open additional sanctions' against Saudi crown prince Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Biden administration to give Congress full classified briefing on Syria strikes by next week MORE (D) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump teases on 2024 run Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate Warner: White House should 'keep open additional sanctions' against Saudi crown prince MORE (D) — condemned the photo of Northam but stopped short of calling for him to step aside on Friday night.

“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," Kaine said.
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Northam issued a statement Friday night apologizing for appearing in the picture from his medical school yearbook and released a video later in the evening reiterating his regret over the photo. He also indicated he did not plan to step down. 

“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now,” Northam said in his statement.

"That photo and the racist and offensive attitude it represents does not reflect the person I am today or the way I have conducted myself as a soldier, a doctor and a public servant," he said in the video.

"I accept responsibility for my past actions and I'm ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust. I have spent the past year as your governor fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people. I am committed to continuing that fight through the remainder of my term."

The photo obtained by The Virginian-Pilot came from the 1984 yearbook housed in the Eastern Virginia Medical School library. Northam acknowledged that he appeared in the photo but did not clarify if he was wearing blackface or the KKK robe. 

Both figures in the photo are holding canned beverages and the person in blackface is smiling. A caption beneath the photo lists Northam’s alma mater, the Virginia Military Institute, and a line with “Interest: Pediatrics.”

Northam is a pediatric neurologist by trade.

The Virginia Republican Party was among the first to call for Northam to immediately resign Friday.

“Racism has no place in Virginia,” Virginia Republican Party Chairman Jack Wilson said in a statement. “These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”

– Scott Wong contributed reporting

— Updated Feb. 2 at 12:17 p.m.