Raimondo still the governor, but keeping a low profile in RI

Politics - Government

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gina Raimondo is still the governor of Rhode Island, but residents could be forgiven if they need to double check.

The second-term Democrat has effectively disappeared from the public eye in Rhode Island for the last three weeks, amid a raging coronavirus pandemic and a host of unanswered questions about the coming transition of power to Lt. Gov. Dan McKee.

Raimondo did make a public appearance on Friday — but it was in Delaware, where she joined President-elect Joe Biden for her formal introduction as his nominee to become commerce secretary.

Yet for now Raimondo remains the governor, and she is expected to still be leading Rhode Island until her confirmation by the U.S. Senate — something U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Monday said might not happen until March or even April.

Raimondo’s office has not released a public schedule for her since Dec. 22, the day of her last coronavirus briefing, which used to be held weekly (and even daily earlier this year). It’s unclear whether she will hold any further briefings before leaving office. No briefing has been scheduled for this week so far.

Raimondo’s aides declined to comment, but they privately argue her extended absence is a product of bad timing, although it’s clear she is now spending some portion of her time preparing for her new job in the Biden administration.

The governor had been planning to keep a low profile from Christmas to New Year’s, announcing in advance she would not hold a briefing that week. But then she unexpectedly had to quarantine the following week after a coronavirus exposure.

The quarantine caused Raimondo to cancel planned appearances at the opening sessions of the General Assembly last Tuesday, while her weekly coronavirus briefing, scheduled for last Thursday, was bumped back a day. But then the briefing was scrapped altogether when Raimondo got the nod for the cabinet, and the Health Department director held a scaled-down briefing on Zoom instead.

McKee’s office has begun filling the information vacuum by releasing regular updates on the lieutenant governor’s activities to prepare for the transition. He and Raimondo spoke Thursday, but it’s unclear whether they have talked further since then, though a McKee spokesperson said he expected them to do so soon.

State House observers are closely monitoring how Raimondo and McKee navigate the transition due to the chilly relationship between the pair. They have been expected to announce a joint appearance for days, but the timing on that has not been resolved — and was further complicated when McKee himself had to go into quarantine on Saturday. (He will be out of quarantine on Wednesday.)

The governor’s office did tweet out a photograph of a private meeting Raimondo held Monday morning with newly sworn-in R.I. Supreme Court Justice Melissa Long. But a spokesperson said Raimondo would not be able to attend the public ceremony for Long held later in the day.

The message about Justice Long was one of only nine tweets Raimondo’s office account has sent out since Christmas. Two were holiday greetings, and three involved the opening of the General Assembly. Only two have referenced coronavirus, which has killed more than 200 Rhode Islanders since her last briefing.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.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

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