President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush and the spouse of current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for the Secretary of Transportation position, multiple news sources confirm. Considering the work her predecessor did on both America’s roads and the looming autonomous car revolution, this post is a very big deal.
Chao, a lifelong Washington fixture who was also Deputy Transportation Secretary 27 years ago and who moved seamlessly between political appointments and stints at the Heritage Foundation, will help Trump drain the swamp of our current infrastructure system. In his election night victory speech, Trump promised that “we’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.” It definitely needs the help at the moment.
Back in August, Trump promised $1 trillion worth of new infrastructure spending paid for with new government debt and an expansion of the deficit. A large part of Chao’s job will be to implement that program.
Chao will also serve at a pivotal time for people who like cars, as vast changes in technology herald the rise of both autonomous and electric vehicles, and it falls the the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set the rules. She is also the first woman to be named to a cabinet-level position by Trump, and the first Asian-American woman to hold a cabinet-level position.
Chao had a mixed record as Labor Secretary, as she received criticism for a lack of new OSHA guidelines except where required by the court system, but praise for record lows of workplace fatalities and injuries (though much of that was in large part due to the massive declines in often-dangerous manufacturing jobs).
Chao replaces Anthony Foxx as Transportation Secretary, a former Charlotte mayor appointed by President Obama to the post in 2013. Over the past three years Foxx guided reforms to the embattled National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to give it some actual teeth in regulating automakers, helped lay the groundwork for our inevitable autonomous car future and worked with lawmakers on a massive $305 billion transportation bill.
Foxx has been quite forward-thinking on the challenges that face our cars and our roads in the years to come. We’ll see if Chao can do the same, and where she—and her boss—land on the topic of autonomous vehicles and America’s troubled infrastructure.