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Trump Picks Washington Insider Elaine Chao For Transportation Secretary

Elaine Chao arrived at Trump Tower last week to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. On Tuesday, he announced she was his pick to lead the Department of Transportation.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
AFP/Getty Images
Elaine Chao arrived at Trump Tower last week to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. On Tuesday, he announced she was his pick to lead the Department of Transportation.

President-elect Donald Trump ran an insurgent, anti-establishment campaign, but the latest addition to his prospective Cabinet is about as establishment as it gets.

Elaine Chao, whom Trump picked Tuesday to head the Department of Transportation, worked in both Bush administrations, has ties to the conservative Heritage Foundation, has sat on numerous corporate boards and spent several years running the United Way of America. She also happens to be married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"Secretary Chao's extensive record of strong leadership and her expertise are invaluable assets in our mission to rebuild our infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner," Trump said in a statement. "She has an amazing life story and has helped countless Americans in her public service career. I am pleased to nominate Elaine as Secretary of the Department of Transportation."

Chao is the latest Trump pick who would very likely have shown up in any Republican administration-in-waiting, along with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, longtime GOP fundraiser and school choice advocate Betsy DeVos, and Georgia Rep. Tom Price. (Trump's picks for U.N. ambassador, education secretary and health and human services secretary, respectively.)

The growing number of establishment Republicans in the Cabinet — who could be joined by 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a candidate for secretary of state — are a sharp contrast to Trump's initial wave of appointments. Those were headlined by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who previously ran the controversial right-wing news site Breitbart, which has ties to the white nationalist "alt-right" movement.

Chao was President George W. Bush's labor secretary, an appointment that made her the first Asian-American woman ever appointed to a Cabinet position. (Chao was also the only member of Bush's Cabinet to serve throughout his entire eight-year term.) She worked as a deputy transportation secretary during President George H.W. Bush's administration.

Other candidates Trump was considering to head the Department of Transportation included Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta, one of the handful of congressmen to enthusiastically endorse his campaign in its early stages.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: November 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Nikki Haley as President-elect Donald Trump's choice to be U.N. secretary. Haley is actually his choice for ambassador to the U.N.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.

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