PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo on Wednesday pledged to remain in office until the
“moment” she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as President-elect Joe Biden’s commerce secretary, appearing in public for the first time in Rhode Island since being named as nominee for the job.
Raimondo spoke at her regular coronavirus news briefing at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium — which she hadn’t held in three weeks — but left without taking questions while her health director, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, was still speaking about the pandemic response. Raimondo also declined to speak to reporters outside.
“Our country is facing the worst economic crisis in a generation,” Raimondo said at the start of the news conference, adding that she was “deeply honored” to be nominated by Biden. “In this moment of darkness there’s an opportunity to build back, and build back better.”
Raimondo said she wants bring the work she’s done in Rhode Island related to job training, addressing the skills gap and creating jobs to Washington, and said her goal is for her work under the Biden administration to continue to help Rhode Islanders.
“I have been asked numerous times by members of the press if I wanted to go to Washington,” she said. “The truthful answer is, I have never picked myself in Washington. I have loved every minute of being your governor. It is the greatest honor that I have had in my life. … Rhode Island will always be close to my heart, where I am from, and my top priority.”
The unusual briefing also marked the first time Lt. Gov. Dan McKee — set to take over as governor when Raimondo leaves for Washington — has appeared at a coronavirus briefing since the pandemic began.
McKee and Raimondo, both second-term Democrats, have not shared a close relationship during their concurrent tenures. But McKee began his own remarks by praising Raimondo for her work over the past six years.
“The governor has done a great job for the state of Rhode Island,” McKee said. “This is a source of pride for everyone that lives in the state of Rhode Island, to have a governor to serve in the cabinet of the president of the United States.”
McKee said Raimondo’s staff has kept him apprised of the COVID-19 response, and he’s previously pledged to keep Raimondo’s COVID team in place when he takes over. He has not yet announced any other personnel decisions — including whether he will retain other members of Raimondo’s cabinet — but has scheduled a news conference Thursday morning at Chelo’s in Warwick to further discuss the transition.
Raimondo did not comment on the timeline of her departure, and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said earlier this week her final confirmation vote may not happen until March or April. A person familiar with the planning told 12 News her initial hearing before the Senate could happen later this month.
However, McKee told reporters outside the Vets he is currently anticipating taking over around mid-February, “give or take a few weeks.”
“The learning curve will be short,” McKee said.
Still up in the air is whom McKee will appoint to replace him as lieutenant governor for the two years left in his term, or even whether he’ll get to choose, now that multiple lawmakers have introduced bills proposing alternate methods of selecting his replacement.
“The decision has not been made on that,” McKee said. “We’re trying to clarify it with the General Assembly, in fact, whether I’m going to have the ability to make that appointment.”
McKee is already being publicly lobbied by a growing list of politicians who want to be picked.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook