Donald Trump is nominating former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to be his secretary of transportation, his transition team announced on Tuesday.
“Secretary Chao’s extensive record of strong leadership and her expertise are invaluable assets in our mission to rebuild our infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner,” Trump said in a statement, adding that Chao has “an amazing life story.”
Chao, 63, was labor secretary under President George W. Bush and deputy transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush.
“The president-elect has outlined a clear vision to transform our country's infrastructure, accelerate economic growth and productivity, and create good-paying jobs across the country,” she said on Tuesday.
Previously, Chao also served as director of the Peace Corps and president and CEO of the United Way of America. She is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“Let me be quite clear I will not be recusing myself,” McConnell told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. “I think it was an outstanding choice.”
Let me be quite clear I will not be recusing myself. I think it was an outstanding choice.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
The position will require confirmation by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, as well as the full Senate.
Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the committee’s chairman, said he would be asking Chao about Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, which she would have a key role in implementing. Thune also said Congress would need to work with Chao to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and craft a new highway bill.
Thune said Chao had “a long record of accomplishment.”
“She’s held a number of positions both inside and outside of government,” Thune said Tuesday. “In every position she’s distinguished herself and done a great job.”
She’s held a number of positions both inside and outside of government. In every position she’s distinguished herself and done a great job.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
Democrats, too, were complimentary of Trump’s choice.
“She’s well-liked,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat. “There’s a great deal of respect for her in the United States Senate.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and a member of the Commerce Committee, noted the irony of Trump picking Chao, given that he’d campaigned against insiders. But McCaskill also praised Trump for appointing women to his Cabinet. Chao would be the third woman to lead the DOT, after Mary Peters and Elizabeth Dole.
Chao would be the third woman to lead the DOT, after Mary Peters and Elizabeth Dole
“There is no one who can be considered more of an insider than Elaine Chao,” McCaskill said. “But I think she’s competent and smart and obviously very experienced in the ways of Washington, and it’s terrific that he finally has women in the Cabinet.”
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who will be the leader of Senate Democrats in the next Congress, said his party was ready to work with Trump’s administration on a major infrastructure bill “backed by real dollars and not just tax credits.”
“I hope Secretary Chao shares that ambitious goal and is willing to work with Democrats to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create millions of good-paying jobs along the way,” Schumer said in a statement Tuesday.
Chao would lead a department of 60,000 employees and an annual budget of $98 billion.
Chao would lead a department of 60,000 employees with an annual budget of $98 billion
The department oversees highways, railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials, aviation, mass transit, waterborne transportation, truck and bus safety, and automobile safety.
Chao would succeed Obama Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Chao met with Trump last week in New York to discuss labor and transportation issues.
Rep. Lou Barletta, a Pennsylvania Republican member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and an early Trump supporter, was also considered for the job.
Chao becomes the fourth woman and third Asian-American to join the Trump Cabinet. Last week, Trump chose South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Chao becomes the fourth woman and third Asian-American to join the Trump Cabinet
Trump also picked Michigan philanthropist and Republican donor Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education.
Also on Tuesday, Trump tapped Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and former Indiana health official Seema Verma as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Lindsay Wise and Vera Bergengruen contributed to this story.