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Virginia Democrats hold fire on impeachment of lieutenant governor

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Virginia Democrats pressured Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax to resign on Monday over accusations of sexual assault, which he denies, but held off on pursuing impeachment, with the Republican speaker of the state House urging restraint.

Fairfax is one of three top state Democrats engulfed by scandal this month. Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have also faced criticism after admitting they wore blackface in the 1980s.

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Patrick Hope, a Democratic member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, said he believed Fairfax should have resigned already after two women accused him of sexual assault but added he would not move immediately on his weekend call for impeachment proceedings.

Adding to the pressure, much of the lieutenant governor’s staff have resigned since the second accuser came forward on Friday, according to his spokeswoman, Lauren Burke. They included his policy director and his scheduling director, as well as the executive director and a fundraiser at his political action committee, the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper reported.

The accusations of racist behavior or sexual assault against the three men have rattled party leadership in a swing state that likely will play a pivotal role in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Democrats have been gaining power in the Southern state in the last few election years.

Party leaders in Virginia and across the nation have called for Northam and Fairfax to resign. They have been more forgiving toward Herring, largely because he came forward on his own to admit having performed in blackface at a 1980 college party, rather than waiting for someone to accuse him.

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Northam and Herring are white; Fairfax is black.

Hope, the white Democratic lawmaker who had called for Fairfax’s impeachment, renewed his call for the lieutenant governor to resign while saying he was discussing whether impeachment was the best solution.

“Fairfax should have already resigned,” Hope said in a statement. “The message being sent to victims of sexual assault is chilling.” He said he believed Fairfax’s two accusers.

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The scandals may cost the Democrats their chance to take over control of the legislature in November’s elections, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. He said the scandals have eroded voters’ faith in the party to put forward good candidates, and any perceived racial disparities in consequences may cause further harm.

“You’ve got three of them in trouble, and then potentially the African-American goes and the two whites stay,” he said in a telephone interview. “There could be complete justification for that, but it looks terrible.”

‘VOLATILE SITUATION’
House Speaker Kirk Cox, the Republican who would become governor if all three Democrats resigned, said it was too soon to say whether he would support impeachment.

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“We need to be very careful with the high standards of impeachment,” he told reporters. A majority of House members would have to vote to impeach for the proceedings to move to the Senate. A two-thirds majority in the upper chamber would be needed to remove someone from office.

Northam has insisted he would not resign over a 1984 medical school yearbook picture, which showed a person in blackface next to another wearing the robes and hood of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. Northam denied being in that picture but admitted to dressing in blackface for a social event that same year.

Blackface traces its history to 19th-century minstrel shows that mocked African-Americans, and is seen as offensive by many Americans – though its use continued in U.S. popular culture through to the early 21st century.

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About 39 percent of white Americans say it is at least sometimes acceptable to don blackface for a Halloween costume, while 37 percent believed it was never acceptable, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted mostly before Northam’s admission and released on Monday. Only 18 percent of black Americans agreed it was at least sometimes acceptable, while 53 percent said it was never acceptable. 

Fairfax has said sexual encounters with both women were consensual.

Members of the legislature’s black caucus are also seeking an investigation that does not immediately involve impeachment.

“We don’t know how to do that yet,” Delegate Lamont Bagby, the caucus chairman, said in an interview.

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Reporting by Gary Robertson, additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Scott Malone, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Iran says seized British-flagged tanker ‘free’ to leave

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Iran said on Monday that a British-flagged oil tanker is "free" to leave more than two months after it was seized in the Gulf.

"The legal process has finished and based on that the conditions for letting the oil tanker go free have been fulfilled and the oil tanker can move," government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference.

He did not specify when the Swedish-owned vessel would be allowed to set sail.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps surrounded the Stena Impero with attack boats before rappelling onto the deck of the tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19.

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MSNBC’s Morning Joe fact-checks Trump’s ‘slimy’ lies about Biden: ‘He’s rigging the election!’

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MSNBC's Joe Scarborough threw cold water on President Donald Trump's accusations against Joe Biden, as the Ukraine scandal continues to widen.

The "Morning Joe" host ripped the president for pressuring Ukraine's president to dig up dirt on Biden and then leaning on states to cancel Republican primaries to snuff out three challengers' campaigns.

"You talk about an inside game, rigging the process, and we talked about how Donald Trump is rigging the process on the Republican side to make sure that as many states as possible cancel democratic elections for the primary," Scarborough said. "I mean, he's learning from Vladimir Putin the way you get 100 percent of the vote is you just cancel the elections, and that's what Donald Trump is getting Republican operatives to do across the country."

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Trump condemned for moving to ‘roll back the clock’ as letter exposes his attempt to form anti-abortion UN coalition

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"It's not just abortion that they care about, they care about women's ability to exercise autonomy over their bodies and about denying them critical access to the services they need."

Global women's rights advocates raised alarm Monday after a leaked letter showed the Trump administration is pressuring U.N. member nations to join an international anti-abortion coalition.

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