Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam clung to his job Tuesday amid indications that he might not be forced out if he refuses to quit amid the firestorm over racist photos from more than three decades ago.
Northam, a Democrat, emerged from staff and Cabinet meetings in recent days without addressing the calls for his resignation from both sides of the aisle. Republican State House Speaker Kirk Cox, however, said he has no plans to try to force Northam out.
“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.
Cox said Northam might not meet the constitutional provisions for impeachment, including misbehavior while in office or mental or physical incapacitation. That position was supported by Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, who told USA TODAY “nothing that has happened so far is grounds for removal.”
Some Democrats also eased up, with state Del. Lamont Bagby, head of the Legislative Black Caucus, saying he would let Northam “breathe a little bit, give him space to make the right decision.”
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Northam also won a rare call of support Tuesday from former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman, the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000.
“I think there’s a rush to judgment that is unfair to him,” Lieberman told CNN. “He ought to be judged in the context of his whole life.”
Northam was bathed in the national spotlight Friday when a photo from his page in his 1984 medical school yearbook was published by the conservative website Big League Politics and immediately went viral. The photo showed one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.
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The governor initially apologized for being in the yearbook photo, but the next day reversed course, saying he doesn’t believe he is in the photo and calling it “disgusting, offensive, racist.” He did, however, admit to wearing blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume he wore for a dance contest in Texas in the early 1980s.
“I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that,” Northam acknowledged.
Northam had already been the subject of controversy over a bill that would loosen restrictions on late-term abortions. Patrick Howley, editor of Big League Politics, said he obtained the photo from someone angry over some of the governor’s comments in support of the measure.
Northam, in a radio interview, described a hypothetical situation where an infant who is severely deformed or unable to survive after birth could be left to die. That prompted accusations from prominent Republicans that Northam supports infanticide.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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