Kentuckian by marriage, Chao is Trump's choice to drive transpor - News, Weather & Sports

Kentuckian by marriage, Chao is Trump's choice to drive transportation and rebuilding

Elaine Chao (Source: WAVE 3 News) Elaine Chao (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LA GRANGE, KY (WAVE) - Elaine Chao stands by Mitch McConnell's side whenever her husband is on the campaign trail, or the DC party circuit.

But stand in the shadow of the U.S. Senate Majority Leader? Never.

"She stands on her own two feet," friend and supporter Mary Broeker told WAVE 3 News Tuesday. 

Broeker has hosted the power couple several times as President of the Oldham County Republican Women's Club.  She's not the least-bit surprised that the former Labor Secretary under George W. Bush is President-elect Donald Trump's choice for Transportation Secretary.

"Any time she's with a group of people, she can relate to everyone on any level," Broeker said. "She absorbs local situations, and makes decisions taking those things into account."

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By any definition, that's a prescription for survival, given that the President-elect believes that he thrives best by being unpredictable. Even contradictory.

Donald Trump the developer has vowed to become "President Trump - the Rebuilder," repairing or replacing roads, bridges, airports and rail lines. His price-tag: $1 trillion. 

"Elaine has the ability to make people understand why certain projects have been  chosen over others," Broeker said. 

She's been there; Deputy Transportation under President George H.W. Bush after serving as his director of the Peace Corps.  Associates have described her as so detail-oriented that she knows the major donors to McConnell's campaigns not only by name, but by dollar totals.

Prior to his successful 2014 campaign for an unprecedented sixth term, he took to the air to defend him after opponents tried to blame the two for encouraging out-sourcing American jobs to China. Chao was 8 years old when her family emigrated to the United States from Taiwan.

"Far-left special interests are also attacking my ethnicity, even attacking Mitch's patriotism because he's married to me," Chao said in a television commercial. "That's how low some people will stoop."

Chao's strengths carry the potential for conflict. The Transportation Secretary would be the designated-driver for getting any infrastructure bill through Congress -- perhaps facing McConnell across the bargaining table.

McConnell's coldness toward Trump the candidate warmed little even after Trump became the GOP's nominee.

"I don't see her as a go-between," Broeker said. "I don't believe that's why he (Trump) would choose her."

Cabinet appointees require Senate confirmation. Chao's nomination as Labor Secretary sailed through on a voice-vote in 2001.

Outside government, Chao has been adjunct faculty for Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and The Heritage Foundation, conservative think-tank.  She also has been a frequent commentator for Fox News and serves on the Board of Directors of its parent News Corporation. 

She drew criticism for her tenure as Labor Secretary. A spokesman for the AFL-CIO maintained she favored business interests over worker safety. 

"I think they've been partisan, Chao told the New York Times in 2009. "This department handles some of the most difficult issues, some of the most partisan issues, because there really are different world views on the workforce."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) sent strong signals Tuesday that Chao would have little trouble being confirmed. Schumer has questioned whether Trump's infrastructure proposals would spend "real dollars and create real jobs" rather than rely on private-sector investments through tax incentives.

"I hope Secretary Chao shares that ambitious goal and is willing to work with Democrats," Schumer said.

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