WASHINGTON — Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on Thursday announced her resignation, becoming the first Cabinet member to step down following the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on Wednesday, which resulted in five deaths.
In a message to Department of Transportation staff that was also posted on Twitter, Chao said: “Yesterday, our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the president stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed. As I’m sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.
“I am tremendously proud of the many accomplishments we were able to achieve together for our country and I will never forget the commitment you have for this department and the United States of America. I am hopeful that many of you will carry forward our vision to improve the lives of Americans through this department and beyond.
“Today, I am announcing my resignation as U.S. secretary of transportation, to take effect on Monday, Jan. 11, 2020. We will help my announced successor, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, with taking on the responsibility of running this wonderful department.”
Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.), the top Republican on the House Transportation Committee, thanked Chao “for her constant professionalism and her friendship. She has been a champion of infrastructure and transportation safety.”
Born in Taipei, Chao previously served as chair of the Federal Maritime Commission (1988-89), deputy secretary of transportation (1989-91), director of the Peace Corps (1991-92), and president of the United Way of America (1992-96), among other posts.
Under President George W. Bush, she became the first Asian American woman to serve in the Cabinet when she was named secretary of labor (2001-09). She has been with the Trump Administration since it began in 2017.
She is married to outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a Trump ally who publicly parted ways with the president on Wednesday by rebutting claims that the November presidential election was rigged. He also condemned the mob that broke into the Capitol.
Chao’s announcement, which was followed later in the day by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ resignation, comes less than two weeks before the inauguration of Joe Biden as president.
A number of administration officials — including Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews, Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger, Stephanie Grisham, chief of staff to Melania Trump, and Mick Mulvaney, former White House chief of staff and current special envoy to Northern Ireland — have resigned since Trump urged his supporters to march on the Capitol and expressed his love for them even as they trashed congressional offices and chambers.
Nearly 100 Democratic members of Congress are calling for Trump’s immediate removal from office, either through the 25th Amendment or impeachment, saying that the nation is in jeopardy every day he remains in power. The 25th Amendment, which has never been invoked, would require Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of the Cabinet to declare that Trump is unable to perform the duties of his office.
“At this late a stage, resignations help little beyond serving as late attempts at self-preservation,” commented Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “If Secretary Chao objects to yesterday’s events this deeply, she should be working the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment — not abdicating the seat that allows her to do so.”
“A number of administration officials are resigning to protest Trump’s horrific acts of sedition yesterday,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “Not good enough! The vice president and Cabinet members must invoke the 25th Amendment NOW and remove Trump from office before he incites more violence and chaos.”
“Trump Cabinet secretaries resigning 14 days before the next president is inaugurated does not address these individuals’ complicity, aiding and abetting Trump over the past four years, and does nothing to get Trump out of office,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). “That is most important before more destruction.”
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) accused Chao and DeVos of “running away from their responsibility” by resigning before invoking the 25th Amendment. He said this constitutional remedy was preferable to launching a second impeachment.
“Rather than taking the easy resign route, VP Pence and the Trump Cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment to save our country from this dangerous president,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
Some of Chao’s critics characterized her decision as too little, too late. Now This Politics stated, “Chao … has had a front-row seat to Trump’s history of incitement of violence and anti-government sentiment, as well as his courting of fringe groups; Chao stood directly beside Trump on Aug. 15, 2017, during remarks before the press where he called white nationalists in Charlottesville ‘very fine people.’
“Despite her latest objections to the president’s rhetoric, Chao has carried out the Trump admin’s anti-regulation mission. Under her tenure, the Department of Transportation has rolled back fuel economy standards and repealed requirements for states to measure transit-related emissions.”
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who leads a House oversight subcommittee, cited Trump’s “almost infinite” list of offenses and said, “I find it mystifying, if not ironic, that prominent Republicans suddenly find that this president could behave in a way that is dangerous to democracy. Elaine Chao decides she’s had it, nine days before the swearing-in of a Democratic successor? That’s quite an act of principle and courage. Where have you been?”