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Trump Taps Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation

by Countable | 1.10.17

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Elaine Chao, who made history by becoming the first Asian-American female Cabinet member as President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Labor, to head the Department of Transportation. "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.

Who is Elaine Chao?

Chao, 63, was born in Taipei, Taiwan, to parents who had fled the Chinese mainland in 1949 as a result of the civil war between the nationalists and the communists. She was 8 when her family, including three younger sisters, migrated to New York, eventually settling in Long Island. Her father, James, a seafaring captain back in Taiwan, would go on to attain an MBA from St. John’s University and to found The Foremost Group, an international shipping and trading enterprise that he still chairs at age 89.

Chao graduated in 1975 with a B.A. in economics from Mount Holyoke College and in 1979 with an MBA from Harvard. She went to work in executive positions at Bank of America and Citicorp and earned a White House fellowship in 1983 before being named deputy secretary of Transportation under President George H.W. Bush in 1989.

In 1991 and ’92, she directed the Peace Corps, becoming the first Asian-American to do so and, as she watched the Soviet Union crumble, the first director to extend the volunteer group’s reach into Eastern Europe and Central Asia. She left to become president and CEO of United Way and later joined The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, as a distinguished fellow. The only Cabinet member to retain her post for the entirety of George W. Bush’s presidency, she returned to the Heritage Foundation in 2009.

Chao has been married to current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) since 1993 and sits on the board of several nonprofit organizations and corporations. She has been a frequent contributor to Fox News broadcasts and has received 36 honorary doctorates as well as the 2011 Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service.

What's the outlook for her confirmation?

Strong. Despite mixed reviews from the Democrats about her effectiveness as Labor secretary, she can count on supporters on both sides of the aisle. In fact, incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) congratulated her on her nomination and expressed the hope that she will expedite an infrastructure plan that the president-elect has said will require Congress to pass a "trillion-dollar stimulus" bill.

The Republicans have been less than enthusiastic about Trump’s plan. Some have even been openly skeptical of Chao’s support of it and of her recent comment that a "cash infusion" might indeed be necessary to repair the country’s creaking infrastructure.

What does the Department of Transportation do?

It develops and maintains the U.S. public transportation systems and infrastructure. It does so with nearly 60,000 employees and a budget that in Fiscal Year 2014 was $77.2 billion. Some of that is used to assist state and local governments in the development and maintenance of ground transportation, including roadways and public transit, and to regulate commercial air travel and airports. Among its high-profile subagencies are the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

- Erin Wright

(Photo Credit: Helene Stikkel / Public Domain)

Countable

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