Multiple press reports this morning suggest that Elaine Chao will be Donald Trump’s choice to head the US Department of Transportation.
Several of Trump’s early executive branch staffing decisions have been genuinely odd, and many others have involved people like Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who are mainstream conservatives in their views but who lack the kind of hands-on government experience that you normally expect to see in those roles. Chao, by contrast, is exactly the kind of person you would expect to see serve as transportation secretary in a Republican Party administration. She headed up the Labor Department during George W. Bush’s administration and served as deputy secretary of transportation under George H.W. Bush.
The only slightly odd wrinkle in the matter is that she’s married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which some see as a problem.
Imagine if a President-elect Clinton had selected Schumer's wife, Iris Weinshall (a former NYC Transportation commish), as her Transpo Sec'y— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) November 29, 2016
On the other hand, there is actually more precedent for this than one might think. Chao is merely following in the footsteps of Elizabeth Dole, who was also married to a Senate majority leader and also served as secretary of both transportation and labor.
What Trump has done here is passed up a traditional opportunity to make a bipartisan Cabinet pick. Even in a polarized era, transportation policy is not a sharply partisan issue, and both Norm Mineta and Ray LaHood served under opposite-party presidents, while Chao’s relationship with McConnell makes her a sharply partisan choice.