Biden Joins Northam After Pushing Him to Resign for Having 'Lost All Moral Authority' Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks at an event titled "Transforming Rail in Virginia" at the Amtrak-VRE station in March 30, 2021, in Alexandria, Virginia. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
By Theodore Bunker | Friday, 28 May 2021 11:54 AM
President Joe Biden on Friday will join Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to celebrate the state's progress recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown — but Biden's visit comes just two years after he called for the governor to step down amid a blackface scandal that Biden said lost Northam "all moral authority."
The Daily Caller reported that Biden's potentially awkward trip to Alexandria, Va., was arranged to "discuss the state's progress against the coronavirus pandemic" and "celebrate summer as Virginia lifts all COVID-19 distancing and capacity restrictions," citing White House guidance to the media. Biden also visited Alexandria last month, when he made a trip to a vaccination site at a local seminary.
Friday's visit comes more than two years after Biden called on Northam to resign after a photo from the governor's 1984 yearbook resurfaced, showing two men — one in a KKK outfit and one in blackface — one of which was reportedly Northam. The governor at first admitted to being one of the people in the photo, but later denied it.
"I am 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," Northam said in an initial statement at the time. "This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians' faith in that commitment."
He added: "I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor."
But less than 24 hours later, Northam had changed his tune.
"I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo," Northam said. "This was not me in that picture. That was not Ralph Northam."
The scandal, however, initially appeared big enough to cost the governor his job. Biden said in February 2019 that "There is no place for racism in America. Governor Northam has lost all moral authority and should resign immediately, Justin Fairfax is the leader Virginia needs now."
Vice President Kamala Harris, then vying for the Democrat presidential nomination with Biden, also said Northam should go.
"Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government," she tweeted in February 2019. "The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together."
Northam survived, however, after his potential successors — Fairfax, the lieutenant governor, and Attorney General Mark Herring — both became embroiled in scandals of their own. With each member of the trio compromised, they simply waited out the outrage.
The governor said that after the scandal, he was made aware of "what black oppression is," during an interview with NBC News last June.
"There's been an awakening of really what black oppression is," Northam said. "A lot of people that look like me have learned a lot, have listened, have seen the pain that is in this country, that is in Virginia in the last few weeks."
He added, "What I didn't realize, and what I have learned, is really that black oppression exists here, is alive and well in 2020. I think white people need to listen and I think they are recognizing the pain that exists because of the protests."