- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Former Trump administration Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has few regrets serving as the head of the agency despite mixed results on the administration’s agenda.

Ms. Chao reflected on her time serving as transportation secretary and her interest in the future of technology and infrastructure in an interview with The Washington Times.

“Surely, there were things that we could have done differently,” Ms. Chao said. “But I think we tried our best. We worked very hard. We all felt it was a privilege to serve our country and to serve the American people.”

Ms. Chao said her focus at the agency was on prioritizing safety issues, preparing for the future of transportation and shifting more infrastructure investment into rural communities.

The former secretary also described the Biden administration’s approach to the agency as being “very different” from hers, highlighting priorities such as climate change and social equity being touted in the bipartisan infrastructure bill recently passed by the Senate, where Ms. Chao‘s husband, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, is the Republican minority leader.

Ms. Chao said that much of the bill went to social welfare programs over traditional infrastructure such as building roads and bridges.

“Seventy percent of that was for social welfare programs,” Ms. Chao said. “Equity and climate change is obviously a huge part of their concern. So, what we are seeing is a tremendous amount of new taxes being potentially levied and tremendous increases in new regulation.”

Ms. Chao, however, had nothing negative to say about her successor at Transportation, Pete Buttigieg.

“I hope he enjoys his job,” Ms. Chao said. “It’s a wonderful privilege to be able to serve our country and lead a department as important as the Department of Transportation.”

Ms. Chao resigned from former President Trump‘s Cabinet a day after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

In a statement at the time, Ms. Chao called the event “traumatic” and “entirely avoidable.”

“As I’m sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside,” Ms. Chao said.

In the months following Ms. Chao‘s departure, Mr. Trump mocked her statement about her experience.

“She suffered so greatly,” Mr. Trump said at a Republican National Committee event in April.

The former president also criticized Mr. McConnell on his wife’s appointment as transportation secretary.

“I hired his wife. Did he ever say thank you?” Mr. Trump said.

Ms. Chao previously served as the Labor secretary under former President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009.

She is the first Asian American woman to hold a presidential Cabinet position.

Prior to her tenure in the Bush administration, Ms. Chao served as the CEO of the United Way of America and was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to serve as the head of the Peace Corps in 1991.

Mr. Trump ran on campaign promises to deliver on infrastructure but was unable to reach a deal with Congress on getting a bill passed, despite several attempts.

And Mr. Trump made clear he was no fan of Mr. Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure package, threatening to support primary challengers against Senate Republicans who backed the bill — though ultimately one-third of the minority members, including Mr. McConnell, signed on.

Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell have had an icy relationship since the former president left office, and reports say the two have not spoken in several months.

In February, Mr. McConnell said Mr. Trump was “morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 riot.

The former president has since put out statements and called out the minority leader by name in speeches and rallies across the country.

Shortly before the Senate’s vote, Mr. Trump referred to the package as a “disgrace” and blamed Republicans who broke from his threats.

“It is a gift to the Democratic Party, compliments of Mitch McConnell and some RINOs who have no idea what they are doing,” Mr. Trump wrote in an August message put out by Save America PAC.

Ultimately, the bill was passed by a 69-30 vote in the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to bring a vote on the package in the lower chamber by Sept. 27.

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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