PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lt. Gov. Dan McKee is expected to meet with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s team this weekend to start transition planning, as the Cumberland Democrat prepares to take over once Raimondo leaves midterm to become U.S. commerce secretary.
In his first public statement since President-elect Joe Biden announced Raimondo’s nomination on Thursday to join his cabinet, McKee congratulated the governor, saying they talked Thursday about the “importance of a smooth transition.” Front and center, he said, is the COVID-19 response effort.
“Crucially, our state’s COVID response will not be impacted,” McKee said. “Governor Raimondo and I agreed it is in the best interest of Rhode Island that the team leading our state’s COVID response remains in place throughout the pandemic as we distribute the vaccine and continue Rhode Island’s robust response.”
In accordance with the Rhode Island Constitution, the state’s lieutenant governor takes over in the event the sitting governor leaves office or otherwise cannot serve. Raimondo’s current term runs through the end of 2022, and McKee is planning to seek the job in his own right in next year’s election.
McKee described the opportunity to become governor as an “honor,” and thanked Raimondo for her leadership. Raimondo is scheduled to be formally introduced by the Biden administration Friday afternoon at a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware.
“As a lifelong Rhode Islander whose family has owned and operated small businesses in Rhode Island for over one hundred years, I love our state and I’m honored by the opportunity to serve the public as Governor during this critical moment,” McKee said.
It remains unclear exactly when McKee will take over as governor, as Biden still needs to be inaugurated on Jan. 20, and Raimondo will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. But whenever he steps into the role, McKee will immediately face the daunting task of overseeing the state’s coronavirus public health crisis response effort.
His decision to keep the state’s response team intact will likely come as welcome news to some in the Raimondo administration who are concerned about job security under a McKee administration. The 69-year-old Democrat, who has served six years as lieutenant governor after eleven years as Cumberland mayor, said he will be working closely with Raimondo on a transition plan that “prioritizes the needs of Rhode Islanders.”
The state is averaging about 1,000 new coronavirus infections each day, and the disease has contributed to the deaths of nearly 2,000 Rhode Islanders. Almost 400 people with COVID-19 were in the hospital as of Thursday, although that number has been declining in recent weeks.
Arguably most complicated will be the continued rollout of vaccine distribution and inoculations, as the state has fully vaccinated roughly 1,000 people since mid-December. The planning and logistics surrounding the process will become ever-more complex after inoculations move beyond hospital workers and nursing home residents.
McKee said he will meet with Raimondo’s team this weekend to be briefed on the COVID-19 effort and to begin planning the structure of his transition team. (McKee has not said yet who will be part of that team.)
McKee, who is a proponent of small business interest and charter school education, will enter office with a different set priorities than Raimondo. But how quickly his policy goals unfold will likely depend on the pandemic. And for now, he said the response effort will be his top priority.
“Nothing is more important to the success of our state,” he said.