President Elect Donald Trump has named former George W. Bush Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao to be his Secretary of Transportation. Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was the first Asian-American woman, and first Taiwanese American, to hold a cabinet-level position. With regard to her appointment to be Trump’s Secretary of Transportation, Chao held the Deputy position in Transportation during the George H.W. Bush Administration.
Secretary Chao was noted in the George W. Bush Administration for being the only member of the President’s Cabinet to serve for the President’s entire eight-year term. During that period Chao faced scrutiny from the left over failing to promulgate new occupational health and safety standards in her first several years as Secretary. However, Chao did undertake significant regulatory reforms and worked to boost the competitiveness of America’s workforce.
Trump’s selection of Chao for Transportation, who, since the Bush Administration has served as a fellow at the conservative thinktank, the Heritage Foundation, is part of a bridge-building (pun intended) effort on behalf of the President-Elect both to Congress and to members of the Republican Establishment with whom Mr. Trump has found himself at odds over the past year.
Ms. Chao is an insider who understands the channels of DC power but also has experience in the Transportation Department, having served as Deputy Secretary of the same in the early 1990s. It’s also critical to note that part of Trump’s plan to restore America is a significant infrastructural plan that would lean heavily on Chao’s implementation. Certainly appointing Chao to a position that would put her in the role of lobbying many members of Congress with whom she has an excellent relationship is a savvy move for the incoming President. Trump expects significant resistance on the right for some of his larger infrastructural spending (nearly $1T as Trump projects). Putting Chao in the position to make his case to lawmakers will go a long way to begin to soften the price tag and negotiate a deal on behalf of the Administration.
The appointment of Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary is a message of continuity with Mr. Trump’s Republican predecessors while also a message that the President-Elect is serious about getting an infrastructural spending package through Congress.