Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam mulls future amid yearbook photo controversy, widespread calls for his resignation

PHOTO: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam speaks with reporters at a press conference at the Governors mansion on Feb. 2, 2019 in Richmond, Va.PlayAlex Edelman/Getty Images
WATCH Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is mulling his future amid calls for his resignation

Amid widespread calls for his resignation over a racist photo that appeared in his 1984 medical school yearbook, Virginia's Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam met with his top staff Monday as he continued to mull over his political future.

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At an at-times bizarre news conference on Saturday, Northam, despite releasing a statement on Friday saying he did participate in the racist photo, said he now believes he did not.

"When my staff showed me the photo in question yesterday, I was seeing it for the first time. I did not purchase the yearbook and I was unaware of what was on my page," Northam told reporters. "When I was confronted with the images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page but I believe then and now that I am not either of the people in that photo."

PHOTO: This image shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northams page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. The page shows a picture of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor. Eastern Virginia Medical School via AP
This image shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. The page shows a picture of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor.

A spokeswoman for Northam confirmed that his staff did gather Monday morning, but characterized it as "our standard Monday morning Cabinet meeting."

In the event Northam does step down, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a 39-year-old African-American and former federal prosecutor, would become governor.

PHOTO: Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax speaks during an interview in his office at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Feb. 2, 2019. Steve Helber/AP
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax speaks during an interview in his office at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Feb. 2, 2019.

Pressed by reporters at an impromptu news conference in Richmond on Monday, Fairfax again did not explicitly call on Northam to resign, using the same language he used in a statement he put out Saturday.

"I've made my statement on that front. I believe the governor has to make a decision that's in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia," Fairfax said, "I’m in a unique position obviously answering to the governor...someone who would have to assume the office in the event he were to resign. So I have to be very circumspect. I have to think about the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia."

"There is a lot of uncertainty now in our government. We always have to be prepared to assume our roles and responsibilities that are given to us by the Virginia Constitution," Fairfax said, "This is not something anyone formulated in terms of how this process proceeds. And so we are prepared and we'll continue to be prepared."

Fairfax said he spoke to Northam "probably a couple of days ago," and when asked if he spoke to the governor following his Saturday news conference, Fairfax said, "I don't know. I don't think I have. I'd have to double-check my records."

Even after Northam's denials, both of Virginia's Democratic U.S. senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, have called on Northam to resign, as have eight Democratic presidential candidates, former Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, with whom Northam served as lieutenant governor, and the Democratic caucuses in both the state House of Delegates and state Senate.

"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," McAuliffe, who remains influential in Virginia politics and is considering a run for president in 2020, wrote on Twitter Friday evening.

PHOTO: Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, speaks during a news conference outside of his home, Feb. 1, 2019, in Newark, N.J. Booker earlier in the day declared his bid for the presidency. Julio Cortez/AP
Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, speaks during a news conference outside of his home, Feb. 1, 2019, in Newark, N.J. Booker earlier in the day declared his bid for the presidency.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, who announced his presidential bid last week, said in an interview on "CBS This Morning" that Northam does not "have the capacity to serve Virginia right now,"

"Being governor of a state is not an entitlement," Booker, who campaigned with Northam in 2017, said. "I believe in the ideas of redemption and we should not be judged by the lowest points in our past. But the reality is, this is hurtful, painful it’s a betrayal of public trust – he should step out of that position."

The rest of the current Democratic presidential field, including Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, former Congressman John Delaney, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg have all called on Northam to step down.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have also called on Northam to resign.

Kirk Cox, the Republican Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, reiterated his call for Northam to step down on Monday but said there is "hesitation" on the part of the legislature to considering impeaching the governor.

PHOTO: Graphic highlights the line of succession for Virginia governor and looks at strategic advantages democrats could benefit from. AP
Graphic highlights the line of succession for Virginia governor and looks at strategic advantages democrats could benefit from.

"I think there's a rightful hesitation about removal from office because obviously, you have to consider that to some degree you're overturning an election," Cox said during a gaggle with reporters Monday morning, "I think the constitutional provisions are very specific on the succession of office. It really does call for a matter of physical and mental incapacitation and that's what it was meant to do."

Cox also said his Democratic colleagues in the House of Delegates have not raised the possibility of impeachment to him yet.