Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is continuing to resist calls to resign following a controversy involving a racist photo in his medical school yearbook.
Dozens of Republicans and Democrats have called for Northam to leave office after his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page surfaced, showing a photo of a man wearing blackface standing next to a another person dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe on Northam’s page.
Northam initially apologized Friday for appearing in the photo, but then claimed during an odd press conference Saturday that “it was definitely not me” wearing blackface in the photo.
“My first instinct is to reach out and apologize because this was so hurtful,” Northam said. “After I did that, I had a chance to reach out to classmates and my roommates and I am convinced, that’s not my picture.”
If Northam were to resign, he’d be the first Virginia governor since the Civil War to step down. The remainder of his term would be filled by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would become just the second African-American governor in the state’s history.
Here’s the latest of what we know:
CNN obtained a copy of the yearbook and found several more racist photos scattered throughout, including one that shows a man in a wig dressed up like a woman wearing blackface and another featuring a white male holding a coffee mug with words “We can’t get fired! Slaves have to be sold.”
CNN said it chose not to publish the images themselves until receiving comment or confirmation from the individuals pictured.
Fairfax told reporters at the Virginia capitol on Monday afternoon that he hasn’t spoken recently with Northam, and that he’s not sure how the governor plans to proceed.
“I believe the governor has to make a decision that’s in the best interest of the commonwealth of Virginia,” Fairfax said.
Fairfax was also pressed by reporters on whether he was taking any steps or making any plans should Northam decide to resign as governor.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now in our government but we always have to be prepared to assume our roles and responsibilities that are given to us by the Virginia Constitution," Fairfax said.
Fairfax also denied allegations of sexual assault made by a woman who claims he attacked her at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, when he was working as an aide for then-Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. Fairfax called the encounter with the unidentified woman “100 percent consensual.”
“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this uncorroborated smear comes out?” Northam asked. “We hit it off, she was very interested in me and so eventually, at one point, we ended up going to my hotel room.”
“It’s such a shame that this has been weaponized and used as a smear because this is a very real issue,” he said of sexual assault.
Northam meet with his Cabinet and other officials within his administration Monday morning, according to the Washington Post. The embattled governor also held an abrupt meeting with his senior staff prior to the Super Bowl, the Post reported. Despite that, Northam reportedly informed staff members he needs more time to deliberate, and is not expected to make a public appearance Monday.
Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, once again called for Northam to resign during a press conference Monday morning, but paused at the idea of the legislature forcibly removing Northam if he refused to step down.
“Regardless of the veracity of the photograph, the governor’s lost the confidence of the people and cannot effectively govern,” Cox said.
While Northam denied wearing blackface in the yearbook photo, he did admit to darkening his face to play Michael Jackson during a dance contest in 1984.
"I had the shoes, I had a glove, and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put… on my cheeks," Northam said during his Saturday press conference. "And the reason I used a very little bit is because, I don't know if anybody's ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off."
"I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that,” Northam added.
“I don’t see that the governor has any other choice but to step aside,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who is also the vice chair of the Democratic Governors Association, said on MSNBC Friday night.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who announced the launch of his 2020 presidential campaign on Friday, wrote on Twitter “we should expect more from our elected leaders.”