McAuliffe Urges Successor Northam to 'Make the Right Moral Decision'

Demonstrators protest ralph northam richmond

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe predicted that his successor would "do the right thing" over a controversial photo because "we just need to put this behind us -- we need to move forward."

Gov. Ralph Northam rejected calls for his resignation over a racist photo on his page in his medical school yearbook showing a person in blackface next to a person in a KKK robe and hood. He was silent about the controversy today after claiming at a Saturday news conference that he once used shoe polish as blackface to portray Michael Jackson at a 1984 dance contest.

"When the photo came out Friday afternoon, when it was sent to me, I said there is absolutely no way that Ralph Northam is in this picture," McAuliffe told CNN today. "And then, Friday evening, it came out that Ralph indeed was -- he said he was in the picture. At that point, for me, morally, the only right thing to do -- and it was hard. I called Ralph on Friday night. It was one of the hardest things I had to do, [he] was my lieutenant governor."

"...It's heartbreaking. And it's been one of the worst 48 hours. But Virginia needs to come out of this stronger. I can't sit here and pretend and be in the steps of those individuals who have been offended by those photos."

On reports that lawmakers will try to remove Northam from office if he doesn't resign, McAuliffe predicted "it will not come to that."

"And if Ralph is watching this today, I know how much he loves this Commonwealth of Virginia. And you have got to make the right decision. You have got to make the right moral decision," he said.

"It doesn't matter whether he was in the photo or not in the photo at this point. We have to close that chapter. We have to move Virginia forward," McAuliffe stressed. "Justin Fairfax, African-American lieutenant governor, will do a great job of bringing folks back together. But this is a part of the chapter of Ralph's life. And, as I say, he will be remembered for so many great things, but he will also be remembered, in a time of need, that he chose the right moral course for Virginia, and he resigned, and we moved forward."

The Congressional Black Caucus is demanding that Northam go, with Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) telling NBC's Meet the Press the Virginia governor lost the credibility to lead "because I think he's been completely dishonest and disingenuous."

"He knew this picture was there. And he could've come clean and talked to African-Americans that he's close to decades ago," she said. "And I think, given the overall climate around race in this country, especially over the last two years, it's completely unacceptable."

"The good news is, though, is that there is a zero-tolerance. And people do understand. And he needs to resign immediately to stop the pain in Virginia and, frankly, around the nation."

"He's lost the authority to lead. He's lost the authority to govern. He has to resign," Rep. Don McEachin (D-Va.) told NBC. "It's in the best interest of the Commonwealth. It's in the best interest of the party."

McEachin said when he spoke to Northam on Friday "he was apologetic for having been in the photograph and that sort of thing."

"So I was really surprised when, the next day, he comes out and says it's not him. That was quite a surprise to me," he added.

Northam said that "while I did not appear in this photo, I am not surprised by its appearance in the EVMS yearbook -- in the place and time where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognize as abhorrent today were commonplace."

McEachin countered that assessment. "My family's been from Virginia, and I've lived in the Richmond area since third grade. And I can tell you that, to the best of my knowledge, it was not commonplace in 1984," he said. "But let's assume, without conceding that it was, indeed, commonplace, slavery was commonplace. That doesn't make it right. Massive resistance was commonplace. That doesn't make it right. Jim Crow was commonplace. That didn't make it right."