Raimondo cabinet speculation heats up again, this time for commerce job

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Will Gov. Gina Raimondo be going into President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet after all?

That remains the hottest topic at the Rhode Island State House as 2021 dawns, amid rising speculation that she could be tapped as commerce secretary, one of the few major jobs Biden has yet to fill.

Sources familiar with the situation have told 12 News that Raimondo is being considered for the job, but there is no indication she has been picked, and the job could still go to someone else. Axios reported Monday morning that Raimondo “has emerged as a leading candidate.”

The governor’s office has declined to comment, and Raimondo has refused to discuss the possibility that she could get the job. A spokesperson for the Biden transition team declined to comment over the weekend.

“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I truly have nothing more to say on the topic,” Raimondo told 12 News reporter Tim White during a year-end interview on Dec. 18. “My intention is to be the governor. I am the governor now. I am working constantly and I have nothing else to add.”

A Biden transition official told reporters before New Year’s that more cabinet announcements could come this week. The president-elect was traveling to Georgia on Monday to campaign for the Democratic candidates in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate runoff elections.

This marks the second time since the November election that there has been serious talk about Raimondo leaving Rhode Island before the end of her term in 2022 for a job in Washington. She was also seriously considered to be Biden’s health and human services secretary.

If Raimondo did accept the nomination of commerce secretary, she would not be expected to leave office as governor immediately, since her appointment would still require Senate confirmation at some point after Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

If Raimondo is appointed, Democratic Lt. Gov. Dan McKee would take over and serve out the remaining two years of her term as governor, through the November 2022 election. (Raimondo, a second-term Democrat, is barred by term limits from running again herself.)

During a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers last Thursday, McKee said he did not know whether Raimondo would be chosen, but said he is ready to serve if it happens.

“I do think it’s certainly a source of pride that a governor of Rhode Island would be considered for a cabinet position for the president of the United States,” McKee said. “My job has been always to be prepared in that unlikely scenario. I am prepared, and I’ve been working for the last six years to make sure that I am prepared.”

Rhode Island already has another connection to Biden’s transition efforts at the Commerce Department: Dr. Sandra Whitehouse, an environmental expert and the wife of U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, is a volunteer member of Biden’s agency review team for the department, which houses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its sister agencies.

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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