WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump’s choice to run the U.S. Transportation Department, Elaine Chao, defended the president-elect’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan as a “bold vision” on Wednesday in an overwhelmingly friendly Senate confirmation hearing.
While there is criticism of Chao, in particular on environmental issues, there is no significant opposition to her nomination and she is expected to be confirmed.
She served as labor secretary under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009 and was the first Asian-American woman to hold a Cabinet position. She was deputy secretary of transportation under President George H. W. Bush.
She was introduced by her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The top-ranking Democrat on the committee, Florida’s Bill Nelson, noted his wife’s friendship with Chao.
Chao will take a leading role in Trump’s plans to rebuild crumbling U.S. roads and bridges with a $1 trillion fund. He would offer private investors who put money into projects an 82 percent tax credit but critics say it is unclear how they could recoup investments in most projects without sharply increasing costs for users of most roads and bridges.
Chao described the plan to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation as a “bold vision” and acknowledged the need to work on the issue of paying investors back.
“For them (partnerships) to be truly effective, there need to be revenue streams that need to be assured,” she added. “We all know that the government doesn’t have the resources to do it all.”
Chao is nominated to head a department with such wide-ranging responsibilities as oversight of the nation’s airports and highways, fuel-economy rules for autos and probes into auto makers for safety recalls of key parts like airbags.
She declined to take positions on issues like whether the job of air traffic control should be privatized, concerns over the safety of shipments of crude oil by rail, foreign airlines like Norwegian Air Shuttle’s push to move into the U.S. market and regulation of developing technology like autonomous vehicles and drones.
Chao faced no questions about her memberships on corporate boards. Chao is on the board of Wells Fargo & Co which has struggled since September after it agreed with regulators to pay $190 million in fines and restitution to settle charges that its employees wrongly created as many as 2 million accounts without customer authorization.
Chao is an immigrant from Taiwan who arrived in the United States at age 8. Her father, James S.C. Chao, is founder of the Foremost Group, an international shipping company.
Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker