Political insider chosen for transportation post

Ms Chao is a savvy and professional practitioner of Washington's inside game.
Ms Chao is a savvy and professional practitioner of Washington's inside game.

WASHINGTON • She is a woman and an immigrant, a fixture of the Republican establishment for two decades. She is a savvy and professional practitioner of the capital's inside game.

And now she is going to work for the US government.

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Ms Elaine Chao to be his secretary of transportation, elevating someone whose background and experience are at odds with his anti-Washington campaign.

But her selection on Tuesday also signalled Mr Trump's understanding of the need to have people who can help him accomplish the most ambitious parts of his agenda, even if they are from the political establishment he has so often scorned.

Mr Trump has said infrastructure redevelopment will be a priority during his first 100 days in office. And Ms Chao has experience - politically and personally - in navigating the competing centres of power in the US capital. She is married to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky.

This will be her second time serving in a White House Cabinet if she is confirmed. As labour secretary under president George W. Bush, she was the only official in his administration to serve all eight years.

"That says something," said Mr Richard Hohlt, a veteran Republican consultant and friend of Ms Chao's. "She knows how to work a bureaucracy, and she knows how to last."

She adds some diversity to a Cabinet that is so far older, white and male. Ms Chao, 63, was born in Taiwan and moved to the US with her family when she was eight.

Now that she is in line for a prominent position in Mr Trump's Cabinet, it is her own ties to business that are likely to come under scrutiny. As labour secretary, she faced criticism that her department favoured business and was lax on enforcement and worker safety.

But other private-sector work could prove to be an asset. She was a banker for Citicorp and helped close transactions that involved transportation financing.

But the financing issue she will confront will be totally different. Despite consensus that the nation's infrastructure is in dire need of an overhaul, Congress and the White House have been unable to agree on how to pay for it.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2016, with the headline 'Political insider chosen for transportation post'. Print Edition | Subscribe