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 Devi HarrisTrump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick MSNBC Climate Change Forum draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot Iowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats MORE (Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Pelosi wants to change law to allow a sitting president to be indicted 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 SandersSanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Krystal Ball tears into 'Never Trump' Republicans 2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum 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 SchatzSenate Democrats accuse administration of burying climate change reports Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Whistleblower complaint concerns Trump talk with foreign leader: report MORE (D-Hawaii) echoed those calls, writing on Twitter that Northam "has lost any ability to govern effectively."

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden blasts Trump, demands he release transcript of call with foreign leader Pelosi wants to change law to allow a sitting president to be indicted Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week 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 KaineDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Missouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers Sen. Kaine: No reason for US to 'engage in military action to protect Saudi oil' MORE (D) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Defense: Trump hits Iranian central bank with sanctions | Trump meeting with Ukrainian leader at UN | Trump touts relationship with North Korea's Kim as 'best thing' for US Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit 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.