Elaine Chao of Kentucky, who was Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush, was named to be the next Transportation Secretary by President-elect Donald Trump, according to a report in USA Today.
“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. “She has an amazing life story and has helped countless Americans in her public service career.”
Chao was also assistant secretary of transportation in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.
“The President-elect has outlined a clear vision to transform our country’s infrastructure, accelerate economic growth and productivity, and create good paying jobs across the country,” Chao said. “I am honored to be nominated by the President-elect to serve my beloved country as Transportation Secretary.”
Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Chao met with Trump recently in New York. Her appointment adds some gender and ethnic diversity to the Trump lineup, which has largely been made up of white men.
Chao was the first woman of Asian descent to be appointed to the Cabinet when she was tapped by Bush to be labor secretary in 2001.
Born in Taiwan, she came to the U.S. at the age of eight with her parents. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College and Harvard Business School.
After she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Chao will take charge of the agency responsible for carrying out Trump’s campaign promise to refurbish the nation’s roads and bridges.
Her eight-year tenure as labor secretary included an overhaul of the rules governing overtime pay.
Prior government service includes director of the Peace Corps, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and chair of the Federal Maritime Commission.
In the private sector, Chao was president and CEO of United Way of America, vice president at BankAmerica Capital Markets Group and a banker with Citicorp. More recently, she is listed as a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute and is on the board of directors for News Corp.
In 2015, she resigned from a philanthropic group run by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg over that organization’s campaign against coal. Democrats made an issue of Chao’s affiliation with Bloomberg Philanthropies during McConnell’s 2014 Senate re-election campaign.
Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said he supports Chao and Trump’s call for more investment in infrastructure.
“Secretary Chao distinguished herself during her eight years at the helm of the Department of Labor, and is exactly the kind of principled but pragmatic leader that can turn the bold infrastructure vision Mr. Trump articulated on the campaign trail into a Beltway reality,” Dow said. “We look forward to working with Secretary Chao on federal transportation policies that are pro-connectivity, pro-growth and pro-traveler, which will hopefully include proposals to address the dire condition of U.S. airports within the first 100 days.”
Greenpeace USA raised concerns over Chao’s nomination based on environmental policy.
“Chao would be wise to convince her potential new boss that urgent action on climate change and innovation of public transit will protect American lives,” said Greenpeace USA spokeswoman Cassady Craighill. “Chao’s connection to institutions that manufacture climate denial, like the Heritage Foundation, requires the public demand she prioritize both public health and the impacts of climate change when managing our transportation infrastructure.”
In 2012, Chao’s family donated $40 million to Harvard Business School, where Chao and her three sisters earned degrees.