WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump has selected Elaine Chao as transportation secretary, CNN reported Nov. 29.
Chao, 63, served as secretary of labor under President George W. Bush throughout his administration (2001 to 2009), becoming the first Asian American woman to serve in a Cabinet position as well as the longest-serving labor secretary since World War II.
The first Asian American in the Cabinet was Norman Mineta, who was secretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton and secretary of transportation under Bush.
If confirmed, Chao will succeed Obama appointee Anthony Foxx.
Chao, who met with the president-elect at Trump Tower on Nov. 21, could play a vital role in Trump’s plan to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges and public transit.
Chao has been married since 1993 to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who called her “an excellent choice” for the job and said he will not recuse himself from transportation-related matters. There was a similar situation during the Reagan Administration when Elizabeth Dole was transportation secretary while her husband, Sen. Bob Dole, was majority leader.
A native of Taiwan and a graduate of Harvard Business School and Mount Holyoke College, Chao has been deputy secretary of transportation under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1991, chair of the Federal Maritime Commission, director of the Peace Corps, president/CEO of the United Way of America, a vice president at BankAmerica Capital Markets Group, a contributor to Fox News, and a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
Chao is Trump’s second Asian American appointee. On Nov. 23, he named South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Haley, 44, a daughter of Indian immigrants who has served as governor since 2011, is regarded as a rising star in the Republican Party but was an unexpected choice because she has little foreign policy experience and was a harsh critic of Trump during the GOP primaries.
Haley, who endorsed Marco Rubio and then Ted Cruz, once called Trump “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president” and said that Americans “want to know they’re sending someone up to the White House that’s going to be calm and cool-tempered and not get mad at someone just because they criticize him. We would really have a world war if that happens.”
She has accepted the nomination but requires Senate confirmation before she can succeed the current ambassador, Samantha Power.
Trump also named billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos as education secretary. The choice has already drawn fire from the National Education Association because of her support of private school voucher programs.
Democrat Michelle Rhee, who was a controversial figure as chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools, was rumored to be under consideration and met with Trump along with her husband, Sacramento mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson, but said in a tweet on Nov. 22:
“I am not pursuing a position with the administration but I have appreciated the opportunity to share my thoughts on education with the PEOTUS [president-elect of the United States]. Interestingly, many colleagues warned me against doing so. They are wrong. Mr. Trump won the election. Our job as Americans is to want him to succeed. Wishing for his failure would be wanting the failure of our millions of American children who desperately need a better education.”