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Elaine Chao is now the U.S. secretary of transportation

The former labor secretary will be steering the Department of Transportation at a crucial time for the tech and auto industries.

Senate Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing For Trump's Pick To Be Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Elaine Chao, the former labor secretary under George W. Bush, has been confirmed as the secretary of transportation. The Senate voted on her confirmation — for which she needed only a simple majority — on Tuesday.

Chao, the wife of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, will be taking over the DOT at a crucial time for companies in the auto and tech industries. But it’s more than likely that Chao — who previously acted as undersecretary of transportation — will be largely focused on the trillion dollar infrastructure bill U.S. President Donald Trump proposed leading up to his inauguration.

The outgoing secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx, made significant progress on things like self-driving guidelines and mandating vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. For one, the self-driving guidelines have to be updated once a year so it’s important for Chao to remain in contact with auto and tech companies during that process.

However, Foxx doesn’t think the focus on the infrastructure plan will take away from progress on self-driving laws.

“In theory, we can chew gum and walk straight at the same time,” Foxx told Recode. “I’m hopeful. That’s the word of the day, I have a lot of hope.”

Companies like Uber and Lyft as well as the lobbying group that represents the ride-hail companies in addition to automakers like Ford supported Chao’s nomination.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with [Elaine Chao] on bringing the safety and mobility benefits of fully self-driving vehicles to America’s roads and highways,” the Self-Driving Coalition’s General Counsel David Strickland wrote in a statement.

"We have the utmost respect for Elaine Chao, an accomplished public servant and highly capable leader,” Adrian Durbin, Lyft’s spokesperson, told Recode.

Uber’s head of federal affairs, Niki Christoff, echoed Lyft’s sentiment and said, “Ms. Chao's knowledge of transportation issues is extensive and we look forward to working closely with her."

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