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Virginia Democrats raise pressure on Northam after he says he’s staying

Kaine, Warner and Scott call governor and ask him to step down

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks with reporters at a news conference in Richmond on Saturday. Northam said that he isn’t the person in a photo on his page in his medical school yearbook after apologizing for the photo on Friday. (Alex Edelman/Getty Images)
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks with reporters at a news conference in Richmond on Saturday. Northam said that he isn’t the person in a photo on his page in his medical school yearbook after apologizing for the photo on Friday. (Alex Edelman/Getty Images)

After a Saturday press conference at which Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam refused to step down, Democratic members of Virginia’s congressional delegation intensified their calls for the governor to resign.

Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and the dean of the House delegation, Rep. Robert C. Scott, issued a joint statement Saturday night explicitly calling for the governor to step aside after being more subtle in their initial statements Friday night. 

“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,” the lawmakers said. 

“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.”

Two Virginia freshman Democrats, Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger, were among the first Virginia lawmakers to explicitly say Friday night that Northam needed to go after he admitted to appearing in a “racist and offensive” photo. 

Northam backtracked Saturday and said he had not appeared in the photos. He admitted to once applying shoe polish to his face for a Michael Jackson costume for a 1984 dance contest in Texas. 

That admission and his refusal to step down prompted several other Democratic members of the delegation to issue new, more strongly worded statements calling for Northam to go earlier on Saturday. 

“We expected Governor Northam to resign this morning. Nothing we have heard since changes our view that his resignation is the only way forward for the Commonwealth,” Democratic Reps. Donald S. Beyer Jr. and Gerald E. Connolly said in a joint statement Saturday. 

“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 the Governor must step aside and allow the process of healing to begin under the leadership of Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax,” they continued. 

They had at first suggested Friday night that Northam should resign without outwardly saying so.

Freshman Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who flipped the 10th District last fall, also strengthened her language Saturday afternoon, saying she’d spoken to the governor twice and that he needed to resign. She hadn’t directly called on him to resign Friday night, instead saying the photo was “not reflective of someone who should be leading our Commonwealth.”

Luria, who flipped the 2nd District last fall, was among the first Democratic lawmakers from the Old Dominion to stake out a strong stance Friday night.

“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,” Luria tweeted at about 9 p.m. Friday night. 

“I ask Governor Northam to resign. This isn’t about politics, this is about what is right and wrong,” she added.

Spanberger, who flipped the 7th District last fall, followed Luria’s statement with her own about an hour later asking for the governor to call it quits. 

“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,” Spanberger said in a statement. 

“Governor Northam must resign and fully acknowledge the painful past these images evoke. Bigotry has no place in Virginia,” she continued. 

Northam has been under fire for the image, first reported by the conservative website Big League Politics, of two people — one dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes and the other in blackface — taken from his 1984 medical school yearbook.

The governor apologized Friday, saying he was “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.”

But Northam told a different story Saturday. “It was definitely not me,” he said at the press conference in Richmond. 

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A growing chorus of Democratic politicians — including presidential candidates — and liberal groups have been calling for Northam to step aside since Friday night.

The Democratic Governors Association, the Virginia Democratic Party, the state House and Senate caucuses, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and Attorney General Mark Herring had all joined in that call by Saturday afternoon.

Sophomore Rep. A. Donald McEachin, who represents a safe Democratic seat, called for Northam to resign late Friday night.

Republicans, including Virginia freshman Reps. Denver Riggleman and Ben Cline, have been consistent in their calls for the governor to resign. 

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