President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Transportation, Elaine Chao, testified before a Senate panel Wednesday en route to what is expected to be an easy confirmation.
Chao has a long track record in Washington and is widely respected on both sides of the aisle. She was deputy secretary of transportation under George H.W. Bush, labor secretary under George W. Bush and she’s the wife of one of the nation’s most powerful Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell introduced his wife to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, telling his fellow lawmakers she has “good judgment.”
Trump has repeatedly pledged to push forward with Congress on an infrastructure plan that could cost as much as $1 trillion, and Chao would likely be both instrumental in helping pass such a measure and implementing it.
“The President-elect’s proposal is ambitious and futuristic starting a taskforce to address these issues,” Chao said, adding that there are many financing options that should be considered but we must be creative because the federal government does not have the resources to fully fund infrastructure.”
She mostly avoided political land mines during her session, which was shorter and not nearly as contentious as the hearings for Trump’s nominees for attorney general and secretary of state this week.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said she may be confirmed on Inauguration Day.
She also pledged to share details of Trump’s infrastructure plan in short order.
Chao was asked about railroad safety, specifically positive train control. The deadline for railroads to install the technology has been extended. When asked if she would hold railroads to the current deadline Chao said, “if there’s a deadline I’d look at it seriously.” However, Chao did not commit to taking acting if railroad companies don’t meet the deadline.
It’s a system that combines GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and stop them from colliding, derailing or speeding.
At one point Sen. Tom Udall asked her whether she would work to limit greenhouse gas emissions and climate change as head of the DOT. Chao dodged the question saying, “I’m not familiar with what the department is doing right now. “
While Chao has bipartisan respect, Bryan Gulley, spokesman for the committee’s Democratic members, noted there are concerns about Trump’s infrastructure plans and the question of how it will be paid for.
Infrastructure has been identified as one area of possible bipartisan compromise during Trump administration, but it appears that will be a challenge to achieve. While Democrats are enthusiastic about a big infrastructure plan, fiscal conservatives are expressing concern about such a hefty price tag.