Trump's Cabinet

Elaine Chao brings extensive government experience to cabinet role

Frankie Prijatel | Senior Staff Photographer

The U.S. Senate in January confirmed Chao to the position by a vote of 93 to 6. She will likely be a key player in carrying out Trump’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Elaine Chao has brought an extensive career in government to her newest position as the secretary of transportation in President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

The U.S. Senate in January confirmed Chao to the position by a vote of 93 to 6. She will likely be a key player in carrying out Trump’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Trump has yet to release the plan, but that could happen as soon as next month, according to Politico.

Chao has previously served in the administrations of other Republican presidents, including as the secretary of labor under President George W. Bush.

As the secretary of the Department of Transportation, she now leads a department that oversees a number of agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.

The DOT’s budget funds each of those agencies and in recent years it has given the most funding to the Federal Highway Administration. It allocated more than $51 billion to that agency in its 2017 fiscal year budget.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States’ infrastructure system a grade of D+ in 2017, and estimated that $4.59 trillion would need to be spent to bring the system’s grade up to a B by 2025. The society gave a D for the country’s aviation system, a C+ for bridges, a D for roads and a D- for the country’s transit system.

Democrats have pushed for increased spending on the nation’s infrastructure problems, but that is at odds with fiscally conservative Republicans. That divide could make it difficult for Trump to pass an infrastructure bill, something that is thought to be one of the best hopes for a bipartisan agreement in 2017.

Trump has said that the infrastructure plan would be paid for through private investments, with private companies being incentivized by large tax credits that would be offset by new revenue.

Chao said last month that the president’s infrastructure plan will be unveiled sometime this year, adding that in addition to transportation infrastructure, it will include proposals for energy, water and veterans hospitals, according to the U.S. News and World Report.

Chao’s career prior to becoming the secretary of transportation included stops in both the private and public sectors.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, from January 2001 until January 2009, Chao served as the United States Secretary of Labor. In doing so, she became the first American woman of Asian descent to be appointed to a president’s cabinet.

She also worked under President George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She was the director of the Peace Corps from 1991-92 and the United States Deputy Secretary of Transportation from 1989-91.

Later in her career, Chao for four years served as the president and CEO of United Way of America, a nonprofit organization that supports charitable groups across the country.

When Trump appointed Chao to the position of secretary of transportation, it was expected that she would be confirmed unanimously. But the chaos at airports following Trump’s first executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries slightly plagued her confirmation vote.

Before the vote, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) sent a letter to Chao asking her whether she agreed with the order and how as secretary she would approach further travel restrictions, according to The Washington Post.

Nelson said he never received a response back from Chao and concluded that she had not been consulted on the matter. Still, Nelson encouraged other senators to vote to confirm Chao, though six did not: Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“We need Secretary Chao as someone who has the experience and has common sense and will be in a position to offer levelheaded, good, experience-based advice to the government going forward,” Nelson told The Washington Post.


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