Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.
Virginia men are giving Florida Man a run for his money this week.
First, Gov. Ralph Northam said he once wore blackface to dress as Michael Jackson for a dance contest, after admitting — and then denying — he posed for a racist photo in his medical school yearbook.
A few days later, Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax, who would take over as governor if Mr. Northam resigned, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004. He’s denied the charge, and has hired the law firm that represented Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
And on Wednesday, Attorney General Mark R. Herring, third in the line of succession and an expected candidate for governor in 2021, admitted that he, too, wore blackface at a college party in the 1980s. After a tearful meeting with black lawmakers yesterday, he suggested he could resign.
If the three men, all Democrats, were to step down, next in line for the governorship would be a Republican — Kirk Cox, speaker of the House of Delegates, who got the job because his name was picked from this ceramic bowl. (Seriously.)
The controveries are a disaster for Democrats, and for Virginia, a state that has struggled with its legacy as the birthplace of American slavery.
But they may also foreshadow how some of the country’s raw and polarized dynamics around gender and race could play out in the 2020 election:
• For Democrats, it’s the party’s first high-stakes test of their new, zero-tolerance politics when it comes to racism and sexism — a brand the party has embraced in response to President Trump’s demagogy on race and misogynistic attacks.
• For Republicans, it illustrates how they can weaponize those politics against their opposition.
Republicans, it should be noted, haven’t escaped this crisis completely: It was revealed today that Thomas K. Norment Jr., the Republican majority leader in the Virginia Senate, helped oversee a yearbook that featured racist photographs and slurs. But unlike the Democrats, Mr. Norment is not high enough in the line of succession to change the balance of power in the state.
While national Democrats greeted Mr. Northam’s admission with quick and near-universal condemnation, they’ve been notably more reserved when it comes to Mr. Fairfax or Mr. Herring resigning.
By the standards set by their own party over the past few years, all three men could easily be pushed out of office.
But Virginia Democrats face no easy choices. If the men all step down, they hand the leadership of a key battleground state to Republicans. If the men stay in office, they enter the 2019 elections severely hampered in their ability to mobilize the coalition of women and black voters they need to win in the state.
Oh, and right now, Republicans have a single-seat majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, and the entire Legislature is up for election this fall — meaning the balance of the body is at stake.
So how do Democrats get out of this? Some suggest Mr. Herring, who offered a seemingly heartfelt apology, could survive.
“He reached out to each of us individually, very apologetic,” United States Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia told our colleague Catie Edmondson today. “He is in dialogue with the legislative black caucus and African-American leadership in the state, and they have been impressed with his sincerity, while they’ve been very disappointed with what happened.”
However it’s resolved, it’s clear that Republicans see a way to use the new politics of the Democratic Party against them. Don’t forget, this situation started because Mr. Northam made comments supporting a state bill that would roll back restrictions on late-term abortions. His remarks prompted a “concerned citizen” to point a right-wing website toward the blackface photo in his medical school yearbook.
Mr. Trump seized on Mr. Northam’s remarks in his State of the Union address, using them to call for legislation banning late-term abortions. This morning, he tweeted an even more direct attack.
Republicans are already riding high off another racial controversy that they believe played into their hands: A viral video first seemed to show a group of Catholic boys in MAGA hats in a standoff with a Native American veteran, but the narrative grew complicated as more videos emerged, eventually earning the boys an invitation to the White House.
The boys, it’s worth noting, were in Washington for the March for Life, an annual anti-abortion rally.
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Sixty-Second Guide to … the Green New Deal
We were curious to know more about the Green New Deal. So we turned to Lisa Friedman, who covers climate and environmental policy in Washington for The Times. Here’s what she told us:
You might have heard talk of a Green New Deal, a proposal backed by the rising liberal star Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and thousands of young activists with the lofty ambitions of not only fighting climate change, but also racial, social and economic injustice.
If you weren’t clear on exactly what the Green New Deal aimed to do, though, you weren’t alone. Even the Democratic presidential candidates who embraced it were vague.
“We’re going to have to work through the details,” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts told me last week, when I asked whether she supported some of the specifics that had been floating around. Senator Kamala Harris of California said there were “many versions” of the proposal, “all worthy of consideration.”
But now lawmakers have finally put some flesh on the bones of the Green New Deal, introducing a sweeping resolution today that seeks to define the policy. Here are a few key highlights:
• The Green New Deal calls for the United States to reach “net zero” emissions within 10 years. That would include shifting America’s power grid to “clean, renewable and zero-emissions energy sources,” increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and creating electric vehicle infrastructure to eliminate planet-warming emissions from transportation.
• It also calls for a host of social-justice efforts not normally associated with saving the planet. For example, the measure would guarantee “a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security to all people of the United States.” It also guarantees “high quality education,” health care and adequate housing.
• The resolution includes no details on how to pay for the sweeping societal changes, though a fact sheet provided by congressional staff makes the case that it will pay for itself. “The Green New Deal is a massive investment program, not an expenditure,” proponents of the measure wrote. “We will finance the investments for the Green New Deal the same way we paid for the original New Deal, World War II, the bank bailouts, tax cuts for the rich, and decades of war — with public money appropriated by Congress.”
It’s unclear whether the measure will even get to the House floor, where Democrats hold a majority, and it’s likely dead on arrival in the Republican-held Senate. Yet as a messaging and policy tool for Democrats going into the 2020 presidential race, the Green New Deal promises to be a big deal.
We want to hear your thoughts on the Green New Deal. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, including your name and state, and we may include it in the next edition of the newsletter.
What to read tonight
• In the world of big-wave surfing — one of the most dangerous sports on earth — women are fighting for the right to compete alongside men.
• Facebook’s apps and websites have been blocked in China for years. But that hasn’t stopped the company from making money there.
• Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was seen in public on Monday. So why do some people still insist she’s dead? The Washington Post digs into a new conspiracy theory.
If you are the mysterious Nebraska constituent sending Senator Ben Sasse insult-filled fortune cookies, call us. Please.
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