PROVIDENCE – Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee said Wednesday he expects to be sworn in as governor in mid-February, although the final timeline will depend on when Governor Gina Raimondo is sworn in a President-elect Joe Biden’s commerce secretary.
McKee, who under the state constitution will replace Raimondo when she resigns, is scheduled to offer more details on the transition at an event Thursday. Raimondo made it clear that she doesn’t intend to step down until she is confirmed by the US Senate.
Both McKee and Raimondo appeared at the governor’s weekly COVID-19 pandemic press conference at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, which the local television and radio stations air live. In an unusual move, the two declined to take questions on stage, and Raimondo refused to speak with reporters at all. McKee spoke to reporters outside the auditorium.
McKee said he hasn’t made a decision on who he’ll appoint as lieutenant governor, and he said he’s still seeking clarification from the General Assembly on whether he’ll make the selection. A handful of local politicians are publicly lobbying McKee for the appointment, but lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow the House and the Senate to pick the next lieutenant or hold a special election.
In her brief remarks, Raimondo said she never intended to leave for Washington, D.C. and called being governor of Rhode Island “greatest honor of my life.” But she said the country is facing a public health crisis and an economic crisis, and she believes she can help the Biden administration as commerce secretary.
“We are in a situation as a nation that none of us ever imagined,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo said she is committed to a “seamless transition” and she reiterated that McKee has agreed to keep the state’s current COVID-19 response team – including Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott – in place during the pandemic.
Raimondo also said that she is extending the state’s current COVID-19 guidance for another month, which means that social gatherings are still limited to single households and restaurants must close at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The health department announced that 823 more residents tested positive for the virus on Tuesday, and 17 people died, bringing the total number of fatalities to 1,987 since last March. The test-positive rate dipped to 5 percent, which Raimondo said was a good sign since the state was routinely seeing a double-digit positive rate before Christmas.
“Five percent positivity is where we want to be,” Raimondo said.
Alexander-Scott said the state is continuing to ramp up vaccine distribution, and 38,197 residents have received at least their first dose of the vaccine.