Trump expected to pick Elaine L. Chao for transportation secretary – Washington Post
An announcement is expected later Tuesday.
Chao became the first Asian American woman to be named to a Cabinet post in 2001 and went on to head the Department of Labor under George W. Bush for eight years.
In naming a former Cabinet member, who has been married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) since 1993, Trump selected another Washington insider after campaigning on a promise to “drain the swamp” of the influences that he said permeate the capital.
Chao is expected to play a critical role in the administration if Trump follows through on his campaign promise to invest $1 trillion in restoring bridges, roadways and transit systems over the next 10 years.
That would make her Trump’s point person in negotiating his legislative agenda to achieve that with congressional leaders, presumably including her husband. Congress has struggled to come up with money to meet transportation needs in recent years, as the traditional source of revenue — the federal gas tax — has fallen short.
There are sticky differences between what Trump has proposed and what Congress has shown itself willing to accept. For example, congressional Republicans have been sticklers about what are called “pay-fors.” If spending is to expand, they insist on knowing where the money will come from.
The heart of Trump’s revitalization plan is issuing massive tax credits to investors who would step in to build and rebuild infrastructure. But his “pay-for” is the questionable belief that putting construction workers and contractors on the job will yield new tax income that will compensate for the tax credits.
McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) are critical players both in negotiating with the administration and quieting fractious members — often from their own party — who might obstruct their goals. Whether Chao will negotiate directly with her husband was unclear Tuesday.
“Let me be quite clear I will not be recusing myself,” McConnell said in tacitly acknowledging that his wife was Trump’s pick. “I think it was an outstanding choice.”
The pace of Chao’s nomination is likely to move quickly, as her recent public service means that there are somewhat recent vetting files on her. McConnell promised to quickly move ahead with hearings on some nominees even before Trump is sworn in Jan. 20.
“We hope on January 20 that, even though there’s a lot going on that day, we hope to be able to vote on and confirm a number of the president’s selections for the cabinet so that he can get started,” McConnell said.
If Chao is confirmed, it would not be the first time that a Cabinet member has been put in position to deal directly with a spouse.
Elizabeth Dole served as secretary of transportation during the Reagan administration during a period when her husband, Bob Dole, was senate majority leader.
Samuel K. Skinner, who hired Chao after he was transportation secretary under President George H. W. Bush, described her as an effective communicator with Congress.
“Her relationships in Washington are really deep and very well-respected, and that helps a lot,” Skinner said.”
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the incoming Senate minority leader, said in a statement that he hopes Chao “is willing to work with Democrats.”
“Senate Democrats have said that if President-elect Trump is serious about a major infrastructure bill, backed by real dollars and not just tax credits and without cutting other programs like health care and education, that we are ready to work with his administration,” Schumer said.
Since departing the Bush administration, Chao has served as a fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a contributor to Fox News. She served four years as president of United Way.
Before becoming politically active, Chao was a vice president of Bank of America and an international banker at Citicorp.
A career in public service that began as a White House fellow in Ronald Reagan’s administration grew to stops in the Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation. She served as a deputy secretary of transportation under George H.W. Bush and went on to direct the Peace Corps for two years in the early 1990s.