When critics complain about the big-money nominees in Donald Trump’s cabinet, they focus on billionaire investor Wilbur Ross (Commerce), Amway in-law Betsy DeVos (Education), former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson (State) and Goldman Sachs alum Steve Mnuchin (Treasury).
Rarely do they mention Elaine Chao, Donald Trump’s choice for transportation secretary.
Yet Chao, daughter of a shipping company owner and wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, banks substantial sums as a corporate director and public speaker.
She is not simply riding her husband’s coattails. Chao was labor secretary in the George W. Bush administration and deputy transportation secretary under the elder George Bush. She served as a commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission, and has been a director of such major companies as News Corp. and Wells Fargo. (This could be a mixed blessing, given that both companies have suffered major public relations disasters in recent years.) Her compensation from corporate board positions alone tops $1 million a year. She has pledged to resign those posts if confirmed.
According to McConnell’s most recent financial disclosure, Chao has received five-figure fees for speaking to such groups as the Real Estate Roundtable.
Her connections in the world of conservative think tanks are also significant. Chao has been a fellow of the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation and a board member of the Federalist Society.
Chao’s father, James Chao, is the founder of Foremost Group. When Chao married McConnell, James Chao gave the couple a gift valued at $5 to $25 million.
Her father sat next to her on Wednesday, as her husband introduced her to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The New York Times reported, Chao received a warm welcome from the panel. Her confirmation is considered a sure thing.
As Chao said in her opening statement, “I will be working to lock in the majority leader’s support tonight over dinner.”