Elaine Chao Confirmed as U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary

Elaine Chao, who served eight years as labor secretary under President George W. Bush, was confirmed on Jan. 31 as the Secretary of Transportation, on a 93-6 vote.
February 1, 2017, 6am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Hudson Institute

Chao, "the first Asian-American woman to be appointed to a cabinet role" in 2001, according to a CNN video, also served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation and Director of the Peace Corps under President George H.W. Bush. She also served as president of the United Way of America.

On Tuesday, Chao "won praise from both Democrats and Republicans in the divided Senate," reports Bart Jansen of USA TODAY.

“It would be hard to come up with a more qualified nominee than Secretary Chao for this important role,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chair of the Committee On Commerce, Science & Transportation that reviewed Chao's nomination.

“I think we need Secretary Chao as someone who has the experience and who has common sense and that will be in the position to offer level-headed, good experience-based advice to the government going forward," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the committee.

"Chao was viewed as perhaps the most thoroughly vetted nominee Trump has chosen," reports Susan Crabtree for the Washington Examiner. 

The only "no" votes came from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Crabtree does report on two stumbles during the Jan. 11 confirmation hearing, though. When "Democrats pressed her about railroad safety and whether the Transportation Department would meet a deadline to install systems to monitor trains and prevent them from colliding, derailing or speeding...Chao said she wasn't aware of the deadline but if there is one, would 'look at it seriously.'"

The deadline for implementation of Positive Train Control, a largely unfunded and extremely costly mandated safety technology that experts say would have prevented many deadly train crashes, is "December 31, 2018, with the possibility for two additional years if certain requirements are met," according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Another hiccup surfaced after "Democrats asked her whether she would work to curb greenhouse emissions as transportation secretary," adds Crabtree. "She said only that she is 'not familiar with what the department is doing right now.'"

The department had participated in both climate adaptation and climate mitigation plans under her predecessor, former Secretary Anthony Foxx. All references to climate change have since been removed from the White House website, so watch for changes to U.S. DOT climate pages.

One last note about Secretary Chao's extensive career. As noted in the earlier post on her nomination to the Transportation secretary position, she worked from 1996 to 2001 as a Distinguished Fellow with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank "that is shaping up to be a major influence on Trump's administration," according to CNN. The foundation is a major advocate of devolution, reducing or eliminating the federal gas tax and letting states assume gas tax responsibility. 

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Published on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 in USA Today
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