Elaine Chao, who served as deputy secretary of transportation for President George H.W. Bush, is slated to return to the Department of Transportation more than 25 years later as secretary. The transition team for President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday announced the selection of Chao for the transportation secretary’s post.
Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), would bring a long history of public service to the role, having served as deputy maritime administrator and chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission in the late 1980s and then as deputy secretary under then-Secretary Sam Skinner from 1989 to 1991. She later became the first Asian-American woman to hold a cabinet post, serving as secretary of labor for President George W. Bush. She held that post for eight years, marking the longest tenure in that role since World War II.
In addition, Chao has held senior roles with organizations including the Peace Corps and the United Way of America, as well as with conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and most recently the Hudson Institute.
Her selection was largely welcomed by the aviation industry, with Airlines for America president and CEO Nicholas Calio calling Chao “a distinguished public servant and leader," adding that her "experience in transportation and labor issues, among others, as well as her political skills and the known ability to manage a large organization, will serve the Trump Administration well.”
National Air Transportation Association president Martin Hiller added the sentiment that Chao is “a serious, substantive choice to head a department that is critical to the economic success of our nation.”
Hiller stressed the importance of the selection, noting the that the industry will look to the “Department of Transportation to lead the discussions about the best way to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, including our airports and modernizing our air traffic control system.”
“We know that investment in infrastructure, including for aviation, is a priority for the incoming Trump Administration, and the DOT secretary will be key in making this priority a reality,” added NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “We look forward to working with her to continue promoting general aviation, and building on the progress being made toward a next-generation aviation system.”
Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota), who called Chao “very well qualified to lead the Department of Transportation,” said he plans to act expeditiously on her anticipated nomination.
Thune’s counterpart in the House, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), also expressed support for the selection, agreeing she has the necessary public and private experience to run the Department of Transportation. Shuster added he would work with Chao and the President-elect “to make responsible investments in our infrastructure, streamline transportation improvements, reduce regulatory burdens, encourage private-public partnerships and encourage innovation to preserve and strengthen America’s economic competitiveness.”