Yet in an interview Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation, McAuliffe said not a word about resignations, seeming to accept Northam’s plan to redeem his governorship with a “focus on race and equity.”
“I think he’s made a decision he’s going to stay in,” McAuliffe said of Northam, “but the way that Ralph survives and brings Virginia back together, he’s got to lean in on these very important issues.” Northam is seeking proposals on mass transit and affordable housing as he embarks on an “apology tour” that starts this week at the historically black Virginia Union University. As for Fairfax, McAuliffe said, “Very serious allegations have been made. They need to be investigated … So we will go through that process.”
Read: A reading list for Ralph Northam
The current Democratic National Committee chairman, Tom Perez, had also called for Northam’s resignation shortly after that scandal erupted. But in a Meet the Press appearance on Sunday, Perez didn’t mention Virginia. In a lengthy question about disciplining Democrats who make mistakes, the moderator, Chuck Todd, mentioned Virginia’s governor and lieutenant governor but focused on Representative Ilhan Omar, the first-term Minnesotan who apologized after an outcry over her comments suggesting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee buys politicians’ support for Israel. Perez spoke about Omar, but didn’t bring up Northam or Fairfax.
Instead, the party chairman tried to turn these recent incidents into something positive: “The difference between Democrats and Republicans is, when we see people within our own ranks do things or say things that are antithetical to our values, we are not reluctant to call them out. On the other side, unfortunately, they are enablers.” (Perez said nothing of Republican denunciations of Representative Steve King of Iowa, for his recent comments about white nationalism, or President Donald Trump, after his comment that there were “fine people” on both sides of a white-supremacist demonstration and counterprotest in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017, during which a protester was killed.)
Perez’s and McAuliffe’s remarks on Sunday suggest that Democratic leaders are coming around to accepting the status quo in Richmond. It leaves the party in a position to still claim the moral high ground on issues of race and gender, having denounced Northam, Fairfax, and Herring, without handing the governorship to the Republican speaker of the state House, who would be next in line if the three top Democrats all resigned. Conservatives question whether the Democrats actually possess the high ground, asking what, aside from party affiliation, distinguishes Fairfax’s situation from that of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
National party leaders are not the only ones who have been quieted, for now. The chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, who had urged both Northam and Fairfax to resign, showed an openness to meet with Northam if he would help advance the caucus’s priorities. “My caucus, I can tell you, they’re fired up to get this stuff done,” Delegate Lamont Bagby said last week. The Associated Press also reported that a group of black pastors and community leaders announced their forgiveness of Northam, who tried to work on typical state business such as budget negotiations. The governor also received steady support from local donors and others from the fraternity of Virginia Military Institute alumni, as The Washington Post reported over the weekend. Meanwhile, although Fairfax faced setbacks, including the departure of top aides, the state delegate who had promised to start impeachment proceedings backed down. The current legislative session ends Saturday, offering the embattled leaders time to recover.