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Virginia Legislators Open Session Amid Calls For Governor To Resign


The Virginia House of Delegates opened its session this morning amid calls for Democratic Governor Ralph Northam to resign. He has refused to do so since Friday, when a racist photo emerged from his medical school yearbook. Republican Speaker of the House in Virginia Kirk Cox has said he is not prepared to impeach Northam. Joining us now, Michael Pope of Virginia Public Radio. He has spent the morning around the capitol in Richmond. Michael, thanks for being here.

MICHAEL POPE, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So what have you been hearing this morning? I mean, is Ralph Northam going to keep his job?

POPE: Well, that's the question on everybody's mind. You know, in some ways it's kind of like a typical Monday here, right? Lawmakers are lawmaking. Lobbyists are lobbying. The halls here at the capitol are full of people advocating for, like, the ERA and gun control and, you know, funding for all kinds of things. But everybody has this sort of grim look on their face. They're tired. They're withdrawn. And essentially, everyone's pretending to go on about their business as usual even though everybody knows this is far from usual.

MARTIN: So the drama's playing out against the backdrop of actual government business. But it seems that this is the big elephant in the room - right? - whether or not the governor is able to stay. I mean, is the legislature going to come out and make some kind of pronouncement one way or the other as to whether or not they support him?

POPE: Well, everybody has already sort of made their public statements, right? I mean, there have been many dozens and dozens of calls among Democrats for the governor to resign. There've been dozens of calls among Republicans for the governor to resign. Right now, the House is in session. The Senate is in session. And they are going about their business of lawmaking mainly because they have a deadline they're facing here. Tomorrow is the deadline for all the bills to pass both houses. So they're really intensely focused on getting their own bills passed at this point.

MARTIN: What have other members told you? I mean, do they think that Northam can survive? Ultimately, I guess this is his decision, right? He's getting all this pressure, but there's nothing that says he must step down.

POPE: There's nothing that says he must step down. And impeachment is kind of a high bar. You know, the Virginia Constitution talks about - limits impeachment to malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty, high crimes and misdemeanors. And of - you know, that's - the lawmakers that are talking about this are saying, you know, that's a really high bar. And it's not like the governor has met it. So there's really very little way to force him out of office. The real key is to try to get - put pressure on him so that he wants to resign. So far, that hasn't happened.

MARTIN: Have you heard anything from Northam's office today? Does he have any public appearances scheduled?

POPE: Well, he doesn't himself. But, you know, keep in mind that the lawmaking process involves the governor's office, which is the administration. So the cabinet secretaries are here on the capitol, you know, advocating for and against bills. The people that represent the governor's office, they're going to appear in committee meetings. And so the - right now, the sort of work of government is going on despite the fact there's this cloud hanging over everybody's head.

MARTIN: Have you been able to talk to just regular old Virginians, Michael? How are they absorbing this?

POPE: Well, as you might imagine, everybody is talking about this. And, you know, most people are feeling like the governor should resign. And they feel like, you know, how could he possibly go on, you know, as governor?

But also, the other side of that is he's got lots of powers. You know, the Virginia governor is limited to one term. And as a result of being limited to that one term, he's got all kinds of powers. You know, in a few weeks, he's going to get hundreds, if not thousands of bills that he can actually amend. So he could sign them or veto them or actually amend them to say whatever he wants them to say. So he's still got all the power as the governor despite the fact that there's this circus going on here in Richmond.

MARTIN: OK. We'll keep following it. Michael Pope in Richmond, reporter with Virginia Public Radio, thank you so much for your time.

POPE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.