WASHINGTON (WPRI) — Former Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has been sworn in as the nation’s 40th commerce secretary, embarking on a new phase of her career in public office.
Vice President Kamala Harris administered the oath of office to Raimondo in a ceremony Wednesday evening in Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. The 49-year-old Democrat resigned as governor Tuesday night and was already on the job at the Commerce Department on Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed — who has known Raimondo so long that he was once her babysitter — held the Bible during the ceremony, also representing Rhode Island’s congressional delegation at the ceremony. (A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said there are “strict capacity limits” on swearing-in events due to the pandemic, or else he would have attended.)
Thomas Donilon, a Rhode Islander who served as national security advisor under President Obama, also attended, according to a pool report. Raimondo’s husband Andy Moffit and her children Tommy and Ceci joined virtually, getting a wave from the former governor and the vice president right before the ceremony began.
“The Commerce Department has a simple but vital mission — to spur good-paying jobs, empower entrepreneurs to innovate and grow, and help American workers and businesses compete,” Raimondo said in a statement following the event. “Growing economic opportunity for American businesses and workers is the mission that has driven my career, and as we face overlapping crises that have hurt our economy and robbed too many families of their sense of financial security, that mission is more critical than ever.”
A news release from the Commerce Department noted her work in combating COVID-19 in Rhode Island, and tackling the state’s pensions woes when she was treasurer.
President Biden nominated Raimondo to head the Commerce Department back in January, and she won U.S. Senate confirmation Tuesday on a bipartisan vote of 84-15.
As commerce secretary, Raimondo will oversee a federal department with an $8.9 billion annual budget and roughly 47,000 employees. It oversees agencies such as the National Weather Service and the Census Bureau. She succeeds Wilbur Ross, who held the job during the Trump administration.
She will also be 10th in the presidential line of succession.
Raimondo’s most famous predecessor was the third commerce secretary, Herbert Hoover, who held the job from 1921 until 1928, when he embarked on a successful run for president. The Commerce Department’s building where Raimondo has her new office is named for Hoover.
Other prominent commerce secretaries included Harry Hopkins, who was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s closest advisers; Henry Wallace, who served in the job briefly under President Harry Truman but later mounted a left-wing campaign against his former boss; and Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire investment banker, who held the job for a year under President Richard Nixon.
Raimondo is the first Rhode Island politician appointed to the president’s cabinet since Truman named then-U.S. Sen. J. Howard McGrath as his attorney general in 1949. She is also the first Rhode Island governor to leave office before the end of her term since John Pastore did so in 1950.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram