Elaine Chao Confirmed as 18th Secretary of Transportation

January 31, 2017

Elaine L. Chao was sworn in as the 18th United States Secretary of Transportation on January 31, hours after being confirmed by the United States Senate by a final vote of 93 to 6, with opposition from a handful of Democrats including Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Chao’s husband, voted “present”.

After a contentious back-and-forth between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over unrelated issues, Senators offered their support for Chao during a brief period of floor remarks prior to the vote.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) presided over the floor debate prior to the confirmation vote.

Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman John Thune (R-SD) praised Chao’s experience. “Our economy is truly dependent on a thriving transportation sector. Without a robust and efficient transportation sector, rural states like mine [would be unable to move their goods to the market].”

Thune also emphasized the need for the next Secretary of Transportation to ensure that safety provisions in the FAST Act and PIPES Act are implemented.

Commerce, Science, and Transportation Ranking Member Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) echoed Chairman Thune’s support.

“Clearly she is part of the Senate family as the wife of the Majority Leader,” he said, before indicating that her prior government experience as Secretary of Labor demonstrates her qualification for the role.

Nelson indicated that he had additional questions for Elaine Chao related to the President’s executive order on refugees and visas. He submitted them to the transition team on Sunday night and said that the transition team had not even given her the questions he submitted when he called her. “The nominee to be Secretary of Transportation had not been consulted by the White House, not in advance, not during, not after the implementation of the order affecting those coming into the United States.”

Issues like this, Nelson argued, will require Chao’s involvement in future incidents. He said, “as someone who has the experience and who has common sense and will be in a position to offer level headed, good experience-based advice to the government going forward.

Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson both yielded back the majority and minority time in order to move forward immediately without any further debate.

As noted in ETW last week, it was originally hoped that the Senate would confirm Secretary Chao as early as Inauguration Day. But while her nomination was one of the least controversial, Chao was caught in partisan crossfire and her confirmation vote was ultimately delayed as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) prioritized national security nominations.

In the interim period between former Secretary Anthony Foxx and Chao, Federal Aviation Administration head Michael Huerta served as the Acting Secretary of Transportation.

According to media reports, Michael Britt, a former lobbyist and former staffer for House Highways and Transit Subcommittee chairman Sam Graves (R-MO), will be chief of staff for Secretary Chao.

Now that Chao has been confirmed, we hope to start seeing more news out of USDOT. The agency largely ceased external communications and regulatory activities since President Donald Trump was sworn in on January 20, creating a virtual information vacuum for federal transportation policy.

Additional Reading on Secretary Chao



Search Eno Transportation Weekly

Latest Issues

Happening on the Hill


Related Articles

DOT Establishes Multimodal Freight Office

December 1, 2023 - The U.S. Department of Transportation this week announced the establishment of its new Office of Multimodal...

Buttigieg Outlasts 6-Hour T&I Oversight Hearing

September 22, 2023 - Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg survived a six-and-a-half-hour hearing before the full T&I panel on September 20...

Biden Nominates Whitaker to Head FAA

September 8, 2023 - Yesterday, President Biden nominated Michael Whitaker to be the next FAA Administrator.