Congress

In confirmation hearing, Chao is surrounded by family and friends, some of them senators

As Secretary of Transportation nominee Elaine Chao testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, her father, James Chao, and her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, listen.
As Secretary of Transportation nominee Elaine Chao testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, her father, James Chao, and her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, listen. AP

Elaine Chao’s Senate confirmation hearing Thursday lacked the tension and controversy of other Trump Cabinet nominees in recent days, such as those for attorney general and secretary of state.

In fact, Donald Trump’s nominee for transportation secretary was surrounded by family, including her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and many lawmakers who count her among their friends.

Her father, James Chao, sat behind her, as did her sister and two of her nieces.

McConnell and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul introduced her to the Senate Commerce Committee, but that was just a formality.

Chao isn’t the the only Senate spouse to be tapped twice for a Cabinet post. Elizabeth Dole, the wife of former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, served in the Reagan administration as both labor and transportation secretary.

“I regret that I have but one wife to give for my country’s infrastructure,” McConnell said, echoing Dole.

McConnell noted that his wife would become only the second Kentuckian to serve in a presidential Cabinet since World War II. The first? Elaine Chao, who was labor secretary for President George W. Bush.

Chao also served as deputy transportation secretary for Bush’s father, and later led both the United Way and the Peace Corps. She was a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation until last year and still serves on numerous corporate boards.

“She’s incredibly capable, and she’s got really great judgment on a variety of things,” McConnell said.

“I’ll be working to lock in the majority leader’s support tonight over dinner,” Chao said, with the room breaking into laughter.

Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, referring to McConnell’s sometimes emotionless demeanor, said it was the first time he’d seen the Senate leader hug anyone.

“I’m glad it was me,” Chao said.

Though the questions mostly related to policy, the panel’s chairman, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, couldn’t resist closing with one about basketball, since Chao lives in a state where it matters.

“Louisville or Kentucky?” Thune asked.

“I’m going to take a pass on that one,” Chao replied.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis

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