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Trump Picks Chao for Transportation Secretary

DALLAS – President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate Elaine Chao, who held key positions in the Labor and Transportation Departments in former Republican administrations, as his Transportation Secretary, transition team officials said Tuesday.

An official announcement will soon be made, they said.

If confirmed by the Senate, she will succeed Anthony Foxx in the post. Chao is the fourth Cabinet pick by Trump.

Chao, who is 63, served as deputy secretary of transportation from 1989 to 1991 under President George H.W. Bush and was President George W. Bush's secretary of labor from 2001 to 2009. She was the first Asian-American woman to serve in a Cabinet position.

Chao has been married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., since 1993.

Chao met with Trump on Nov. 21 to discuss labor and transportation policy.

Others who had been considered for the Cabinet post include Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., who chairs the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee's panel on public-private partnerships; Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., a former chairman of the transportation committee who was defeated for re-election this year; Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is ready to work with Chao to rebuild the nation's infrastructure. Schumer will become Senate Minority Leader, replacing Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., when the new Congress convenes in January.

"Senate Democrats have said that if President-elect Trump is serious about a major infrastructure bill, backed by real dollars and not just tax credits and without cutting other programs like health care and education, that we are ready to work with his administration," Schumer said. "I hope Secretary Chao shares that ambitious goal."

Chao is a good pick for the transportation post, said Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation.

"By all the objective measures, she is well-qualified," Davis said. "Chao has underlying transportation policy knowledge and experience as administrator of a large agency."

Chao's Senate confirmation is all but assured, he said.

"I would expect her confirmation to go through the Senate like greased lightning by virtue not only of her objective qualifications but also due to her being the wife of the Majority Leader," he said.

"Her nomination as labor secretary was confirmed by the Senate by unanimous consent on the same day that President [George W.] Bush formally transmitted the nomination to Congress," Davis said. "Her confirmation hearing, which was held before the official paperwork was sent, was a love fest like you never see."

Chao is expected to be one of the key proponents working for passage of Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure proposal in Congress once the new president takes office on Jan. 20.

Trump seemed to downplay the significance of the proposal last week in an interview with the New York Times, saying it was not the most important part of his job creation effort.

"I don't even think it's a big part of it," he said. "It's going to be a big number but I think I am doing things that are more important than infrastructure. Infrastructure is still a part of it, and we're talking about a very large-scale infrastructure bill."

Republican leaders, including McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., may be reluctant to support the tax credits that underlie his infrastructure plan, Trump said.

"They would be in the wing of the Republican Party that would say, 'That's great, but you're not going to be able to do that and balance the budget.' Let's see if I get it done," Trump said. "Right now they're in love with me. O.K.? Four weeks ago they weren't in love with me."

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