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6 Things to Know About...Elaine Chao

By Joan Greve

Washington Week Fellow


President-elect Donald Trump decided on a pivotal cabinet position Tuesday, with sources confirming that Elaine Chao will be nominated as the transportation secretary. Chao does not aid Trump in draining the Washington swamp, given her extensive government experience, but she could help him realize his plan to spend $1 trillion on building and redeveloping America’s infrastructure. Find out more about the former and likely future cabinet secretary.


Elaine Chao

  1. Chao first served in a presidential cabinet as the deputy secretary of transportation under George H.W. Bush, from 1989 to 1991.

  2. She has actually worked for both Bush presidents. Chao became George W. Bush’ labor secretary in 2001 and served until 2009 when he left office, making her tenure the longest since World War II. The position also made Chao the first Asian-American woman to become a cabinet secretary.

  3. Since leaving the federal government, Chao has given speeches and worked as a distinguished fellow of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has been critical of her husband: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

  4. In 1993, Chao married McConnell, who now serves as the leader of Senate Republicans. She has since been a steadfast champion of her husband’s campaigns, carefully tracking those who donated (and how much they donated) to McConnell’s senatorial runs.

  5. If confirmed, Chao will shockingly not be the first labor and transportation secretary married to a Senate majority leader. The description also fits Chao’s former boss Elizabeth Dole, the wife of Sen. Bob Dole who ran the labor and treasury departments under George H.W. Bush.

  6. Chao immigrated to America from Taiwan at the age of 8, with her mother and two sisters. They joined Chao’s father in Queens, where he worked three jobs before building a fortune in shipping.

Photo via flickr / McConnell Center

See how Trump's administration is taking shape: 

Attorney General: Jeff Sessions
Chief strategist: Stephen Bannon
Chief of staff: Reince Priebus
National Security adviser: Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
CIA director: Mike Pompeo
Agriculture secretary:
Commerce secretary: Wilbur Ross
Defense secretary: Gen. James Mattis
Education secretary: Betsy DeVos
Energy secretary:
Health and Human Services secretary: Tom Price
Homeland Security secretary: Gen. John Kelly
Housing and Urban Development secretary: Ben Carson
Secretary of state:
Interior secretary:
Treasury secretary: Steven Mnuchin
Transportation secretary: Elaine Chao
Veteran Affairs secretary:
EPA administrator: Scott Pruitt