RHODE ISLAND – President-Elect Joseph R. Biden officially tapped Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo as his cabinet pick for commerce secretary.
The announcement was formally made at a special event in Wilmington, Delaware on Friday, following months of speculation that Raimondo may be on the administration’s shortlist.
The President-Elect praised Raimondo for her leadership throughout this pandemic, believing she has the experience and skills necessary to help the nation “Build Back Better” — which is serving as the headline of Biden’s plan for job and economic recovery.
“She is one of the most effective, forward-thinking governors in the United States of America,” Biden said. “She is the first woman to ever lead the Ocean State.”
That glass ceiling wasn’t shattered until November 2014, when Raimondo was elected as 75th Governor of Rhode Island. At the moment, Raimondo is in the midst of her second term.
“Rhode Island may be small, but our economy is mighty on the strength of our small businesses and innovative technologies,” Raimondo tweeted on Thursday night. “As Secretary of Commerce, I will harness that same American ingenuity to create good-paying union jobs and build our economy back better than ever before.”
The Smithfield native left the Ocean State during her pursuit of higher education — first to receive her bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University, and later her master of arts and doctor of philosophy degrees as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. Raimondo also holds a JD from Yale Law School.
When she later returned to her home state, Raimondo helped found the first venture capital firm in Rhode Island, Point Judith Capital, and served for four years as the state’s General Treasurer.
It’s this background that helped improve the state’s economy during her tenure.
“When I announced my run for governor, Rhode Island was in the midst of an eight-month streak as the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation,” Raimondo said on Friday. “But over the last six years, we’ve worked hard, we fought back and we’ve grown our way back — achieving a record number of jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years.”
“Now we did that by bringing together our workers and our businesses,” she continued, “working together, coming together, in a common cause.”
Over the past several years, under her leadership, the state has invested in economic development, job training and infrastructure, while spurring the creation and growth of small and medium-sized businesses across Rhode Island. Small business loans have helped to empower Rhode Island entrepreneurs — more than half of them being women or people of color — to get new businesses up and running.
“We invested in our people, in their skills, their opportunities and their dreams,” Raimondo said. “We helped new businesses launch and we sparked others to hire and grow responsibly. That’s the same vision, the same faith in American workers, in American entrepreneurs, that I see in the Build Back Better agenda. It’s a vision for an inclusive recovery that lifts up those who’ve been left behind. It’s a vision for a national effort that provides skills, training and wrap around support to get Americans back to work.”
“It’s a vision for rebuilding American manufacturing and bringing back jobs to Americans from overseas,” she added — an issue near and dear to her heart, since her own family struggled after her father’s factory job of 28 years shipped overseas.
Raimondo said she’s excited to get to work.
“I’m excited to get to work on a national scale to help realize the vision of the President-Elect and the Vice President-Elect, to help more hardworking families, in every community, write the next chapter of their own American stories,” she said.
And while Raimondo has secured the nomination for commerce secretary, her appointment is conditioned on Senate approval.
Until then, Raimondo will stay on as governor. This could be weeks or months away.
If she is appointed to the cabinet, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee will be stepping into the vacancy.
Lt. Gov. Dan McKee said he called to congratulate Raimondo on Thursday, and they were able to discuss the importance of a smooth transition. He stresses that the states COVID-19 responses will not be impacted by this change in leadership.
“Gov. 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 [the Ocean State’s] robust response,” McKee said in a statement on Friday. “Nothing is more important to the success of our state.”
“In the coming days, we will be working closely together to plan a smooth transition that prioritizes the needs of Rhode Islanders,” he added. “As a lifelong Rhode Islander whose family has owned and operated small businesses in Rhode Island for over 100 years, I love our state and I’m honored by the opportunity to serve the public as Governor during this critical moment.”
He has yet to make any public appearances since then, however. Over the weekend, McKee learned he’d been in close contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. The Lt. Governor tested negative on Saturday morning and didn’t experience any symptoms, but completed his quarantine period in its entirety.
He carried out his responsibilities remotely until the end of the quarantine, which was midnight on Jan. 12.
“No one is above the rules of quarantine,” McKee shared in a statement. “As a state official, I am committed to modeling the kind of response to this virus that I hope all Rhode Islanders would have. I will continue to meet with public health leaders and receive other critical briefings remotely.”
McKee shared that he’s looking forward to “speaking with Rhode Islanders and members of the media about our vision for a seamless transition and strong COVID response” once he reaches the end of his quarantine, but until then, he’ll “continue to follow the guidance of the Department of Health which is intended to keep all Rhode Islanders safe.”
Raimondo fell under harsh criticism on social media for attending the event in Delaware on Friday, since she was also forced to enter into quarantine this month. It was the second time in the span of a month that Raimondo has been a close contact of someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19, though fortunately, Friday marked the end of her quarantine period.
She previously quarantined in December after Rhode Island Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott tested positive.
Because of her most recent quarantine period, Raimondo could not hold her weekly press conference last week and has yet to make a public appearance in Rhode Island since accepting Biden’s nomination for commerce secretary.
Despite the criticism she received from those who thought she had been flouting public health guidelines last week, Raimondo also received many words of praise and congratulations.
Those wishing her well in this new role included Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea and Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner, among others.
“Governor Gina Raimondo has been a trailblazing leader throughout her life,” Gorbea said. “In choosing her as his nominee for Commerce Secretary, President-Elect Biden is recognizing her experience and dedication to enhancing commerce,” Gorbea said on Friday. “Governor Raimondo will serve our nation well in this role.”
Gorbea said she is “particularly looking forward to her leadership of the U.S. Census Bureau, which is operated by the Commerce Department.”
“I know I join Rhode Islanders in wishing her well as she goes forward to the confirmation process and look forward to congratulating her again in the near future,” she added.
Magaziner, who worked closely with Raimondo “on a number of major initiatives, including [their] partnership to launch a once-in-a generation statewide school construction program,” wished the governor the best of luck in her new role.
“I know her to be capable and talented, and I have full confidence that she will serve our country well in this new role,” he said. “It is a source of pride for Rhode Islanders to have one of our own represented in the President’s cabinet. I look forward to continuing to work with Lt. Governor Dan McKee in service of the people of our state.”