President-elect Trump has selected Elaine Chao as secretary of transportation, according to media reports. Chao is an experienced pick, having prior experience as secretary of labor under President George W. Bush for all eight years of his term and deputy secretary of transportation under President George H. W. Bush.
Trump’s ambitious infrastructure plan makes this a particularly important cabinet pick, as Chao would be charged with implementing much of the $1 trillion proposal if it were to get through Congress.
It’s not clear what her feelings on electric and autonomous vehicles are, or other issues that might face the Department of Transportation over the next four years, but much of Chao’s work at the Heritage Foundation think tank in post-Bush years has focused on jobs and growth.
Chao has a longtime connection with transportation, working as deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration during the Reagan presidency, then as chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission from 1988 to 1989. Her father was a merchant mariner and founded a successful shipping company.
She has also worked as director of the Peace Corps, as President and CEO of the United Way of America, and as Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. She serves on a number of corporate and non-profit boards, including Wells Fargo, News Corp, and Dole Food Company.
She was born in Taiwan and was the first Asian-American woman and the first Taiwanese-American to serve in a presidential cabinet. She is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). In a surprising footnote, Secretary Chao is the second woman (after Elizabeth Dole) to hold the offices of secretary of labor and secretary of transportation, and whose spouse has been Senate majority leader.
Chao campaigned extensively for Secretary McConnell’s reelection in 2014, headlining a number of events and pushing back on criticisms of her husband as “anti-woman.” She was involved in a minor scandal in the 90s when it emerged that she sought a donation for her husband’s campaign that was later illegally reimbursed by a foreign corporation. It was reported that neither Chao nor McConnell knew of the reimbursement, and the donation was was later returned.
She is the third woman, after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, to be appointed to Trump’s cabinet.