UPDATE 1/7/21: President-elect Biden will nominate Gina Raimondo to serve as Commerce Secretary. This blog was originally published when Raimondo was a finalist for HHS Secretary, and will be updated as new information comes to light.
Here is a controversial take: someone who sees 30,000 COVID-19 cases in their home state — including the state’s highest-ever caseload increase in a single day — and does not think the state is facing a “second wave” is not qualified to run the Health and Human Services department.
Here is an even more controversial take: a governor who publicly lambasts school districts uncomfortable with sending children into potential COVID-19 hotbeds, just because said governor promised a national news outlet months ago that her schools would be open by the fall, is not qualified to run the Health and Human Services department.
Here is an extremely, jaw-droppingly, “You’ll never work in this town again”-level controversial take: Breaking the law to deprive poor people of aid in the middle of a global pandemic-Depression is bad.
If none of these things seem controversial to you, you may be surprised to learn that Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is a reported finalist for the position of Health and Human Services Secretary.
Yes, in the middle of a global pandemic, we apparently aren’t looking to lead the federal health department with, say, a doctor. No, far more important to find a Cabinet spot for Wall Street’s favorite governor, one who wrote the playbook for selling out her state’s pension fund while cutting benefits for actual retirees — a playbook, mind you, which an organization funded by the Koch brothers loved so much they tried to spread it nationwide. This is who we are considering to lead Health and Human Services in the middle of — let me repeat myself — a global pandemic.
It would be a disaster for Raimondo to receive any spot in the incoming Biden administration. (Term limits prevent her from running for re-election.) But it’s especially horrifying — and frankly, stupefying — to consider Raimondo for HHS in the year 2020.
Back in July, Raimondo gave a “Mission Accomplished”-style interview to Politico bragging that under her leadership, Rhode Island’s COVID-19 positivity rate had dropped below two percent. As one might expect from Thomas Friedman’s favorite governor, she naturally credited this success to “an amazing public-private partnership” with CVS, and old-fashioned grit. Raimondo also made a big promise: “We set a goal: Let’s get kids back to school on August 31.”
Three months after Raimondo effectively declared victory over Covid-19, Rhode Island faced 30,000 new cases, including its highest-ever one-day increase of 449 on October 23. It had the 11th-highest number of new cases of any state during the October surge.
It would be one thing if Raimondo showed humility, acknowledged that her press tour had been premature, and set to work making the hard choices necessary to save Rhode Islanders’ lives. Instead, she’s prioritized making good on that “let’s get kids back to school” quote, no matter the cost.
One of Rhode Island’s teachers unions heavily criticized her plans for schooling back in September, but was ignored. (Unsurprising from a governor who once called on her fellow Democrats to “have the courage” to defy teachers unions.) One month later, Raimondo was publicly accusing Pawtucket’s public schools of “robbing the children of Pawtucket the ability to learn in schools” over their hesitancy to re-open in person. One week later, Raimondo asserted that Rhode Island was not, in fact, facing a second wave. Two days after that, Rhode Island had its highest ever one-day case spike. How’s that for “following the science”?
It gets worse. According to Jacobin, Raimondo has been helping to shield healthcare companies from coronavirus-related lawsuits, on behalf of the nursing home lobby. This would put her right at home with D.C.’s Republicans, who have refused to enact much-needed economic stimulus because they want to insulate big industries from any legal liability for death and suffering caused by operating mid-pandemic.
Then again, withholding funds from the needy is right at home with Raimondo’s own policies, such as attempting to strip Rhode Island’s lowest-income areas of 50 percent of their typical aid funds mid-pandemic. In the name of balanced budgets, Raimondo hopes to cut aid for “distressed” communities in half, including some of those with the highest Covid-19 rates statewide. And she’s doing so illegally: Rhode Island law requires the state to defer to the previous year’s budget in absence of a finalized agreement, but Raimondo’s office is pressing ahead regardless.
Joe Biden’s entire campaign was based around his personal decency. He has been clear that he views his mandate as, first and foremost, shepherding the country through the Covid-19 pandemic. How anyone so committed to a rhetoric of interpersonal care could appoint Raimondo to lead the department directly in charge of handling a health crisis is beyond me. It cannot possibly be this hard to find an actually qualified candidate — to say nothing of a candidate who thinks struggling communities, children, and basic health data matter more than her personal political career.