WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump has selected Elaine L. Chao, the former Labor secretary under George W. Bush, to head the Department of Transportation, elevating someone who has been a fixture of the Republican establishment in Washington to a post that could become integral to shaping one of the most ambitious parts of Trump’s agenda.
Trump, a real estate magnate, has said infrastructure redevelopment is a priority. And Chao has experience — politically and personally — in navigating the competing centers of power in the capital. She is married to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and majority leader.
Trump’s transition team announced his choice of Chao in a press release Tuesday afternoon.
The selection, which requires confirmation by the Senate, is the latest as Trump continues to fill senior posts in his administration. So far many of the highest stature positions, like secretary of state and defense, remain open while the president-elect and his transition team continue their highly public process of receiving and interviewing candidates at Trump Tower. Chao met with Trump in New York on Nov. 21.
The transportation post could become a vital one in a Trump Cabinet given Trump’s desires to see $1 trillion spent on revitalizing the nation’s roads, bridges, ports and other systems of public transit.
Chao would become the first female Cabinet-level appointment by Trump. Born in Taiwan, she moved to the United States as a child.
As secretary of Labor, she was the only official in Bush’s Cabinet to serve with him for all eight years. While enjoying the praise and admiration of her colleagues, she also invited scorn from organized labor, whose leaders accused her of being too cozy with business interests.
After she left the Bush administration in 2009, Chao remained quietly active in politics. She has always been a close and, by many accounts, savvy adviser to her husband, immersing herself in even the most minute details of his campaigns like who had donated and who had not.