Passing Zone

Chao Seen as Shoo-in for DOT Chief

January 6, 2017

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The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has scheduled a full-committee hearing for Jan. 11 at 10:15 am on the nomination of Elaine Lan Chao to serve as Secretary of Transportation in the Trump Administration.

Of all those nominated to hold high government positions so far by President-elect Trump, Secretary Chao is the most likely to breeze through confirmation by the Senate.

For one thing, unlike nearly all her fellow nominees, Chao is the epitome of a Washington insider.

She’s already addressed as “Secretary” by virtue of having served as Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush. That was her first Cabinet post, which she held for two entire terms— something of a rarity in latter-day governance. Under President George H.W. Bush, she received her first major executive appointment, as deputy secretary of transportation. 

Chao’s inside-the-Beltway credentials also include being the long-time spouse of the one of the nation’s most powerful politicians, and fellow Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

With her experience and contacts, it’s a safe bet that Chao will waltz through her confirmation hearing. Still, some on the other side of the aisle may elect to draw some blood before the proceedings are closed.

According to a Politico Morning Transportation blog post, Chao could be challenged on several fronts by Senate Democrats, including being questioned about the 2002 labor dispute that she failed to mediate when heading up Labor, which caused many West Coast ports to close until a court injunction ended the strike. She could also be quizzed about her time serving as a director of the ever-more-scandal-plagued Wells Fargo.

Still, committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told a Politico reporter earlier this week that he views Chao as “one of the more qualified and more likely to be confirmed” of Trump’s nominees.

The committee’s chairman Sen. John Thune (R-SD) was even more positive— indicating Chao would be confirmed swiftly.

"Elaine Chao is very well qualified to lead the Department of Transportation as Secretary,” Thune said in a statement after Chao was nominated. “I support the President-elect’s choice and expect the Senate Commerce Committee will expeditiously consider this nomination.”

He added that as a former secretary of labor and deputy secretary of transportation as well as a former chair of the Federal Maritime Commission, Chao has “a distinguished record of serving the nation, and has already shown she can work effectively with members on both sides of the aisle. Her leadership will benefit the Department of Transportation in guiding investment in our infrastructure and making transportation safer and better for the public.”

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David Cullen

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Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.


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