Elaine Chao Expected to Lead Transportation Department

Former Labor secretary is wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, right, campaigned frequently with her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell, in 2014. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, right, campaigned frequently with her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell, in 2014. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted November 29, 2016 at 11:23am

President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao to run the Transportation Department, according to multiple media reports.

Chao served as Labor secretary during the entire administration of George W. Bush, and was deputy Transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

But notable to the senators who will consider her nomination, Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The expected nomination was first reported by Politico.

The Trump transition team has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Roll Call about possible interest in Chao, but a spokesman told reporters on a conference call to expect another Cabinet announcement Tuesday afternoon or evening.

McConnell said he would not recuse himself from a vote to confirm Chao. He would not say whether he suggested his wife to President-elect Donald Trump.

McConnell and Chao met while she was the chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission.

“I was impressed by her intelligence and her confidence, and how close she was to her parents and five sisters whom she spoke of fondly,” McConnell wrote in his memoir “The Long Game.”

Chao’s parents were born in mainland China and later moved to Taiwan. She was the first Asian-American woman to serve as a Cabinet secretary.

She was a popular figure on the campaign trail in Kentucky in 2014 during McConnell’s hotly-contested re-election race.

“Elaine never tires, and she certainly never tires of speaking to people. When she accompanied me to political events across the state, I could see how taken people were with her warmth and ability to connect in a way that is sometimes more difficult for me,” McConnell wrote. “While I am reserved, she’s only too willing to sit and chat forever.”

The Transportation job could be particularly important in the early months of the Trump administration, given the priority that the president-elect seems to be giving to a large-scale infrastructure package.

Chao met with Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Nov. 21, fueling speculation that she could be nominated for either the Labor or Transportation posts.

If nominated and confirmed, Chao would join former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole on a most unusual list: spouses of Senate majority leaders to also serve as secretary of both Labor and Transportation.

Bridget Bowman and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.