Nearly every Democratic official in Virginia and around the country has called for embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to leave office. But he’s strongly resisting being rushed out the door.
Northam’s political career seemed to collapse Friday when a picture emerged from his medical school yearbook page showing a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes. But he’s refused to resign, and spent a Monday morning meeting with his cabinet to see whether they thought he could continue on as governor.
Another meeting with staff was scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Those close to the governor described his decision-making timeframe as days and potentially weeks rather than hours.
That comes even though every major politician in the state and nearly every national Democrat has called on him to step aside for the good of the commonwealth and the good of the party.
Northam is increasingly isolated. Big-name former allies including Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) called on him to resign. Virginia state lawmakers are nearly unanimous in their pleas for him to leave.
“Gov. Northam’s done some great things in Virginia,” Virginia Democratic Party Deputy Chair Gaylene Kanoyton told TPM. “However, in light of the picture, for the good of the commonwealth he needs to step down.”
Essentially the only big-name Democrat who hasn’t officially called for him to leave: Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who would ascend to the governorship if Northam does resign.
Fairfax told reporters on Monday that he had “no idea” what Northam was planning, saying the last time he’d talked to the governor was “A couple of days ago.”
Fairfax also strongly denied an unsubstantiated claim that he’d sexually assaulted a woman at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 — a claim that had been aired by a right-wing website after traditional news outlets including the Washington Post investigated the claims and weren’t able to corroborate them.
Those who remain close to Northam are split about what he should do. But according to multiple sources a number of his top advisers are counseling him to stay — including his wife Pam, who appeared alongside Northam at a Saturday press conference as he admitted to dressing in blackface on a separate occasion even as he denied he was in the yearbook photo. Some of his inner circle believes he’s being unfairly railroaded by his party for political expediency, and think that it’d be best for him to attempt to stay on as governor and hope that the national media moves on in a few days and the pressure on him to leave starts dissipating.
“He’s at a position now where he has to decide whether he wants to do the job this way and whether he thinks it’s fair” to be pushed out, one source close to Northam told TPM on Monday.
Northam seemed close to accepting that he’d need to resign on Friday night after putting out a statement apologizing for the photo. He reversed course Saturday, saying he wasn’t in that picture, even as he admitted to putting shoe polish on his face to dress as Michael Jackson around the same time in the mid-1980s. His team admits the inconsistencies from Friday to Saturday made things worse, but argued that he should be allowed the time to figure out what he should do.
Some of his former allies strongly disagreed.
“It doesn’t matter whether he was in the photo or not in the photo at this point,” McAuliffe said on CNN on Sunday. “We have to close that chapter.”
There seems to be bipartisan agreement that Northam won’t be impeached, however, meaning if he decides to stay there’s not much anyone can do.
“I think there’s a rightful hesitation about removal from office,” House Speaker Kirk Cox (R) told reporters on Monday. “Obviously you have to consider that to some degree you’re overturning an election. I think the constitutional provisions are very specific … it really does call for mental or physical incapacitation.”
Virginia Democrats are doing all they can to pressure Northam to leave. A big question is whether his cabinet officials begin to resign in protest after meeting with him on Monday. But with Northam so far resisting pleas from nearly every elected Democrat to quit, party officials admit there’s not much more they can do.
“If he decided he wanted to be a hermit for three years and get nothing done he could do that,” one Democrat with close Virginia ties told TPM. “But my sense is you’re going to see staff and cabinet members quit soon.”