Will Elaine Chao Stay On As Secretary Of Transportation In A Biden Administration?

Frequently Presidents have chosen a member of the opposite party for one cabinet post. Sometimes it’s been Secretary of Defense (Republican Senator Bill Cohen of Maine under Bill Clinton, for instance). Sometimes it’s been Secretary of Transportation (Republican Congressman Ray LaHood under Barack Obama, former Clinton Commerce Secretary Norm Mineta under George W. Bush).

In a return to normalcy, and especially with a very divided Senate that Republicans have slightly better odds to control, President Biden might choose a Republican for his cabinet – perhaps part of a deal to get a vote on other cabinet nominees.

On the Airlines Confidential podcast this week Seth Kaplan and former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza speculate on whether current Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao could be asked to stay on in her role.

President Trump’s Secretary of Transportation was formerly director of the Peace Corp and President of United Way as well as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Labor. She was also a former Northwest Airlines director. Her appointment could be both politically valuable (reaching out to Republicans) and politically fraught (with Biden’s base).

  • She is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, so might win points with McConnell.

  • She is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, perhaps the most vilified Republican among the Democratic base after Donald Trump.

McConnell is architect of the Senate’s obstruction strategy against Barack Obama.

He refused to bring the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland to the Senate floor. It was a risky move – had Hillary Clinton won the Presidency she almost assuredly would have nominated someone more liberal. However it’s possible the move not only gave Republicans a nominee to the Supreme Court when Trump was elected, it may have made the difference in his election driving turnout among evangelicals and conservatives who may have been reluctant to support Trump but did with a Supreme Court seat in the balance. McConnell of course drove the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Court right before the election.

McConnell’s supporters on the right sometimes affectionately refer to their Senate leader as ‘Cocaine Mitch’ after a Republican candidate called him that in 2018 based on cargo seized from a ship owned by a company related to Secretary Chao’s family.

Democrat donors just lit $100 million on fire trying to unseat McConnell from the Senate, and he won re-election handily.

If President-elect Biden were to select a Republican for his cabinet, Transportation is only one likely place to consider. Extending the tenure of the current DOT Secretary is an obvious possibility, though it’s not clear she’d want to keep the job beyond the full four years in which she’s served (though she was Labor Secretary for longer). However it’s her connection to the Senate Majority Leader that makes her re-appointment, I think, impossible for Biden to do because it would alienate so much of his base right out of the gate – more so even than appointing nearly any Republican other than President Trump himself.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t think it’s likely. There’s not going to be a “return to normalcy” (not in the nostalgic sense anyway). Trump and/or Trumpism are here to stay, even if out of the executive branch.
    If Mitch’s wife stays on as DOT secretary, he and she will be vilified by Trump supporters, of which there are many as we’ve seen in the recent elections. No benefit to stay on.

  2. Hell to the No.

    Clean sweep of what will go down as the most ineffective & disastrous administration in US history.

  3. You get nothing out of Moscow Mitch. He’s a slime bag of the highest order, effectively a traitor in not permitting a duly elected president to get on with his job, ignoring all bills passed by the House and will never be placated by such a transparent move. Any Republican brought into the Biden cabinet will be from the “Never Trump” camp. (Talk about sleeping with the enemy, can anyone imagine a cabinet meeting in which every detail will be “leaked” to the opposition’s strongest player in bed that night.)

    Such speculation is a silly as calling for any sitting Democrat senator being appointed to the cabinet that comes from a state with a Republican (even old line moderate) governor. So no Elizabeth Warren et al.

  4. Dems still have a chance to control the senate depending on the two GA senate elections in January. If Dems have control of senate, then Biden can easily have all Dems in his cabinet.

  5. Not worth asking since there wont be Biden administration. To be president you have to win legally and Trump has done that!

    Look no one steels from me and gets away with it and we arent going to let the dems lie and STEEL this election!!!!

    Trump is winning! the supreme court will soon decide in our favor since it is just and right.

  6. @Tom living in your dream? You and your orange clown lost, period. Stop whining like a baby here. Go donate all your money to Trump’s legal actions and win BIG. Just so you know, 60% of that is going to pay his campaign debt. That’s one of the reasons why he’s still suing for nothing.

  7. More likely, Biden will appoint someone that many people never heard of, like Obama did for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

    Many in the Cabinet are not that busy. Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture was so bored reading the newspaper that he was going to quit before Obama pleaded for him to stay and, to keep him busy, asked him to write a report studying drug addiction.

  8. @doublejade you are FAKE News!!! We won BIG FARE and SQUARE!!!! WE WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO STEEL IT BACK!!

  9. @Tom – maybe instead of giving your hard-earned dollars to Agent Orange to keep pissing away, consider investing in some grammar/syntax/spelling lessons

  10. Gary, that’s a decent political analysis, but I’d be much more interested in your opinions of the job that she has done so far. What has her tenure meant for the industry, and what impacts might she have going forward, vs a replacement with a more traditional Democratic outlook?

  11. @swag – she’s been a competent leader at DOT, there haven’t been real scandals while she’s been there and she hasn’t become embroiled in White House drama. DOT during the Obama administration was actively looking at pro-consumer regulations (or so they’d argue, many of them I believe misguided) and the DOT under Chao’s leadership has been far less active. In general, I find DOT to be too close and supportive of incumbent players, not enough of innovation, though I credit DOT’s Supersonic Aircraft Noise Standards Development efforts.

  12. @Alan – who runs DOT has a lot to do with travel, how airlines are regulated, how consumer complaints are handled, and indeed whether consumer complaints about loyalty programs could potentially be heard

  13. @Omar – she could also be removed, appointing Chao wasn’t just a good relationship move for the Trump administration it also meant he had a hostage

  14. “No Mask Policy” Chao is as useless and divisive as McConnell. She was a terrible labor secretary, and now she’s 2-for-2. Time to move on, and go run her flag of convenience shipping line.

  15. Maybe Biden should be his own Secretary of Transportation like Churchill was his own defense minister? When Biden was VP, he told reporters that he would tell his family not to ride on planes, trains…

    Obama had to correct that statement! Funny

  16. I’m sorry but there is zero chance she stays. Read the Politico investigation of her corrupt dealings favoring projects in Kentucky, she and her husband’s home state. Furthermore, she has stymied essential transportation projects like Gateway in NY/NJ – a project that would benefit the whole country and that has been tied up because of Trump’s personal grudges. Also, the Trump admin removed the Inspector General. Biden will hopefully restore that.

  17. Donald Trump has a better chance of getting $1MM from Bill Maher by proving his mother is not an orangutan than Elaine Chao does of being retained as DOT Secretary

  18. +1 for @jdh’s comments above.

    The Gateway Tunnels (and Access to the Region Core, or ARC, before Gateway) under the Hudson River are desperately needed & long overdue for NY City having been held hostage & subject to the whims of the outgoing administration & before that, one of the Sore Loser-in-Chief’s principal enablers, Chris “Bridgegate” Christie.

    Decades late, replacing Moscow Mitch’s wife, Secretary Chao, with a leader committed to getting shovels (tunnel boring equipment) into the ground & under the river for these critical tunnels that will allow for refurbishing the existing, & more than 100 yrs old crumbling pair of tunnels that were also severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy in October, 2012 cannot begin soon enough!

    Besides, it’s a fantastic, high profile, infrastructure project for high paying, union jobs that demands a more action oriented leader at DOT.

  19. This is purely a masturbatory exercise of the mind, a fantasy. There is no way Biden retains Chao, which is a terrible idea any way one looks at it:

    — Chao is part of the Trump “swamp” that Biden must drain;
    — retaining Chao when there is little doubt that Biden is about to face McConnell’s obstructionism would look , smell like, and likely be a quid pro quo.

    Biden won’t touch that with a 10-foot pole.

  20. You left out one of Chao’s successful jobs, Wells Fargo board. She got a $5 million bonus when she left to become Transportation Secretary presumably to send sweetheart infrastructure deals Wells Fargo’s way.

    “Chao served on the Wells Fargo Board of Directors from 2011 until 2017, a period marked by non-stop scandals, before she resigned to become President Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary. As a Wells Fargo board member, Chao was responsible for overseeing the ethics and fair corporate practices of the mega bank. She sat on the bank’s Corporate Responsibility and Credit and Finance committees, all while Wells Fargo committed massive fraud against its customers, including improperly repossessing veterans’ cars and wreaking havoc on their credit. She oversaw Wells Fargo’s residential lending practices that led to hundreds of customers being improperly foreclosed on and losing their homes. Additionally, Wells Fargo charged more than half a million borrowers for insurance they did not want nor need while Chao served on its board.” — Morning Consult, September 2019.

  21. So Moscow Mitch’s wife Beijing Chao to retain her post? Her sister is in the Board of Directors of CCP Bank Of China which funded a Beijing Chaos shopping business. Of Course the shipping business benefitted from certain rules set by the Sec Transportation which just so happened to be his daughter Beijing Chao! Now let it be said that the $50 million given to Moscow Mitch and Beijing Chao by her father, the dude who now runs the shipping company was entirely out of filial love and was absolutely not funded by the aforementioned CCP Bank for favorable rulings in Transportation. No siree! Just family. Maybe next our Sec State could be Dana Rorhbacher?

  22. (eating popcorn) LOL @ the vitriol on both sides. Hey guys/gals, nobody is right (for your vote, there is somebody on the other die). Get off your high horses and do something instead of B’ing and M’ing about irrelevant topics on travel blogs.

  23. @Cargocult – I’m embarrassed for you (and your pleated khakis and button down shirt) that you are linking to Glenn Greenwald. LOL.

    Keep standing for nothing and pretending you aren’t a Trump Sycophant.

  24. Ah, election votes are still being counted ! States have not certified their elections yet. Electoral college meets in DECEMBER, Duh!

  25. Chao’s out at least by or with the time Biden gets his own nominee confirmed.

    Too bad the Machiavellian frog McConnell can’t go with her.

  26. @UA-TDS

    I already told you that I own neither khakis nor button down shirts, fatty. Of course, you have nothing to say in response to the substance of my statement regarding the warmongering and destruction wreaked by Bush 43 and Bush 44. Keep up with the hysterics; maybe you’ll fool someone someday. The Harris-Biden administration with Joe Biden as President won’t accomplish anything that a President Cotton, Cruz, Haley or Hawley can’t reverse with Executive Orders in 2024. Or maybe the Bad Orange Man himself?

  27. @cargocult – you’re just straight trolling now comparing Obama and Bush…seriously just piss off and go pretend you don’t love Trump and go back to your self-hating and railing against obese people and blame them for the world’s ills. You seem to hate all sides and stand for nothing…what a pathetic life you lead.

  28. @UA-TDS

    Trolling? You’re the hysterical TDSer who can’t respond with anything of substance. I don’t have to love Trump to hate leftist hypocrisy. What do you stand for beyond “OrangeManBad?” Were you living to see a Harris-Biden administration with Joe Biden as President?


    Fact-checking the war comparisons between Obama and Bush

    Obama Promised to End America’s Wars—Has He?

    Obama Has Officially Adopted Bush’s Iraq Doctrine

    War and Deceit: Why Obama “Acts like Bush”

    President Obama, who hoped to sow peace, instead led the nation in war

    And those links don’t barely deal with the refugee crisis resulting from Obama’s policies in Libya and Syria. Trump may be a horrible person and Obama a “good” one, but intentions don’t matter when millions of lives are at stake. You really should shut the front door unless you have something besides ad hominem to respond with, fatty.

  29. @cargocult – congrats, you cherry picked 6 articles in an 8 year presidency. I could probably find a hundred that say the opposite, because, you know, Obama wasn’t Bush, as anyone not self-hating realizes. The Internet is a wonderful thing.

    Again – you apparently don’t stand for a single thing (other than your secret love of Trump…why so hard for you to admit?)

    Oh, I did 45″ box jumps at the gym today for fun. Fat (emphasis *fat*) chance you could pull that off. STFD you whiny b!tch.

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