By far the least controversial Cabinet appointee of President-elect Donald Trump, Elaine Chao’s confirmation hearing was long on niceties and absent of the fireworks present at other confirmation hearings.
Chao’s confirmation hearing was held before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday morning.
The approximately two-hour hearing appeared to operate as more of a formality for Chao’s appointment. That could be in part because this isn’t her first confirmation hearing. Chao has previously served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor and deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation – the same department she’s been nominated to lead this go-round.
Chao was introduced by her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who started by lauding his wife’s qualification – and wisdom.
“I’m reminded of something Bob Dole said at the confirmation hearing for another transportation nominee, his wife Elizabeth. We all remember Bob for having the best sense of humor ever of anyone who served here.
“This is how he began: ‘I feel a little bit like Nathan Hale. I regret that I have but one wife to give for my country’s infrastructure,” he said, prompting a ripple of laughter throughout the gallery. “Well, that was Bob Dole for you.”
McConnell went on speak of Chao’s qualification, capable and one with “really great judgment – on a whole variety of things.”
Joking aside, he hit the highlights of her career and qualification before allowing Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to complete the introductions.
Chao had obviously held courtesy meetings with the vast majority of the Senate Commerce Committee in the days leading up to her confirmation. Chao emphasized that point a number of times in referring to the meetings and saying that she looked forward to working with members of the committee and Congress on transportation issues facing this country.
Chao said safety is her top priority for the agency – which oversees all modes of transportation. In tackling the crumbling infrastructure and the Highway Trust Fund, Chao was very pro public-private partnerships in her various responses.
Given the diverse nature of transportation, Chao fielded a wide variety of questions ranging from aviation to snowmobiles to drunk driving. Trucking did not grab much of the spotlight beyond regulatory burden in general and the emergence of autonomous vehicles.
Senators can continue to follow up with Chao after the hearing and will eventually hold a vote on the committee level as to whether to refer the nomination to the Senate floor for a vote. Chao is expected by D.C. insiders to receive full confirmation with little, if any, opposition.