President-elect Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao is going before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Wednesday. Here are 5 facts you may not know about her.
1. Elaine Chao was the first Asian-American to be appointed to a president’s cabinet.
Under George W. Bush, Chao served as secretary of labor from 2001-2009. While she held this position, she was “the longest tenured secretary of labor since World War II, and the only member of President Bush’s original Cabinet to have served the entire eight years of his administration.” Chao also served under President Bush as deputy transportation secretary.
Prior to this, Chao ran the Peace Corps under President George H.W. Bush and headed nonprofit organization United Way of America. The organization was the subject of scrutiny when its former president was accused of abusing charity funds.
2. Chao was a driving force in the campaigns of her husband, Mitch McConnell.
While Chao has never run for office, she has experience campaigning for her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell.
In 2014, when McConnell sought re-election against Alison Lundergan Grimes,“Chao headlined 50 of her own events and attended hundreds more with and on behalf of McConnell,” according to Time.
McConnell openly praises his wife for her support, saying
“The biggest asset I have by far is the only Kentucky woman who served in a president’s Cabinet, my wife, Elaine Chao.”
3. Unlike other Trump cabinet nominees, Chao’s recent experience may make her confirmation easier.
As the Washington Post reports, due to Chao’s recent public service, there are some relatively recent vetting files for her. As such, her hearing is expected to move more quickly. However, the fact that she will be required to work directly with her husband on the job could pose some difficulty.
4. Chao’s time as Secretary of Labor was not without controversy.
Many labor leaders continue to harbor hostility toward Chao for her crackdown on unions, which she wrote about shortly after she left office in 2009.
In an essay for the Heritage Foundation, Chao claimed, “from 2001-2008, the Labor Department secured more than 1,000 union fraud-related indictments and 929 convictions.”
In a report, the Government Accountability Office said that her department did not fully investigate when low-wage workers lodged complaints against their employers. These complaints included employers failing to pay minimum wage or overtime.
Chao was also the subject of criticism when two mining disasters happened after coal mine inspections were reduced on her watch.
5. Chao’s selection as transportation secretary could bridge the gap between two key players: McConnell and Trump.
Chao’s appointment could bring together McConnell and Trump — two people who have very little in common and have kept a relatively safe distance from one another. The Washington Post describes their relationship during the campaign as being “neither confrontational nor cordial.”
McConnell did not support Mr. Trump’s candidacy early on, but did not waver once Trump was confirmed as the Republican presidential nominee.