What you should know about Elaine Chao, Trump's pick for transportation

Former Bush administration official Elaine Chao was chosen by Donald Trump as his nominee for Transportation Secretary.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao walks through the lobby as she arrives at Trump Tower, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 in New York, to meet with President-elect Donald Trump.

President-elect Donald Trump will name Elaine L. Chao, a former Labor Secretary and Washington insider, to his cabinet as the Secretary of Transportation, according to sources with knowledge of the decision, the Associated Press reports.

An official announcement of Ms. Chao’s appointment is expected to come later Tuesday.

Chao, who served as head of the Labor Department under former President George W. Bush, is also married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky. Her experience and connections to top GOP officials make the selection seem like one that contrasts with Mr. Trump’s campaign trail rhetoric vowing to “drain the swamp” of entrenched career politicians in Washington, D.C.

But it’s Chao’s experience and connections that could come as a major asset to the president-elect as he tries to make good on his promises to rebuild America’s infrastructure, pledging to create jobs for the millions of working class Americans who supported his run for president.

That effort is slated to cost around $1 trillion, and could face opposition from within Trump’s own party for its high price tag. With Chao on his side, he could have extra leverage when negotiating a budget with the Senate.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller has yet to confirm the appointment, but told the Los Angeles Times that the next administration has “taken people who’ve been successful in all different walks of life” – including business, government, and military. He referred to the cabinet, which has included more experienced politicians than some initially predicted, as a “true dream team.”

Born in Taiwan, Chao embodies the classic immigrant success story: becoming one of four sisters to attend Harvard Business School and rising to the top ranks of the Republican party. That narrative could be seen as conflicting with Trump’s strong anti-immigration stance, warning that Hispanic immigrants are rapists, drug dealers, and criminals taking advantage of the American system and calling for extreme vetting or a complete ban of Muslims seeking to enter the nation.

Chao was the first Asian-American woman to be appointed to a presidential cabinet. Prior to serving in Mr. Bush’s cabinet (2001-2009), she was head of the Peace Corps and president of United Way, and was a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy research group.  She rejoined the Heritage Foundation after serving as Labor Secretary. 

The connection between Chao and her husband wouldn’t be the first of its kind between the cabinet and Congress: Under former President Ronald Reagan, Elizabeth Dole served as Secretary of Transportation while married to then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

As with many of the experienced politicians Trump decried in the “swamp,” Chao comes with her own history of missteps and controversies. The Department of Labor was accused of failing to fully investigate complaints on behalf of low-wage workers who alleged that they did not receive minimum or overtime pay while Chao was in charge, according to The Washington Post.

She also came under fire for two mining disasters that left more than a dozen dead after reduced inspections led conditions in the mines to decline.

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