Secretary Chao Nomination Hearing

From: Russ Martin
Sent: January 11, 2017
Subject: Secretary Chao Nomination Hearing

Today, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing to consider Elaine Chao’s nomination as the new Secretary of Transportation. The Committee is technically holding the hearing “open” until tomorrow for any additional Q&A from Senators but Secretary Chao is expected to be quickly approved by the committee and referred to the full Senate.  She is also among the nominees Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will likely put before the full Senate on Inauguration Day (January 20).  In previous administrations, the Senate has confirmed whole sets of U.S. Department heads within a day or two of Inauguration.
Analysts have expected Secretary Chao’s nomination to be among the smoothest of all the nomination deliberations at the start of the Trump administration.  That appears to be the case with today’s hearing, where many Senators praised and congratulated Secretary Chao and questions were polite and collegial. Most discussion pertained to infrastructure investment, air traffic control privatization, drones, and other general transportation topics. However, several Senators specifically raised the issue of traffic safety in the context of rising fatality rates, DADSS, and other issues. Secretary Chao provided a few reassuring points:

  • Safety will be a top priority for the U.S. DOT during her tenure.

  • Drunk driving will (also) be a priority and she looks forward to working with NHTSA and receiving updates on the latest impaired driving initiatives.

Nonetheless, on other questions about safety and many other issues, Secretary Chao shared few specifics and in many cases pledged to “review the data” or “look forward to working closely with Congress.” 
Several Senators asked about Secretary Chao’s approach to autonomous vehicles. Secretary Chao noted that solutions will not be decided by any one person or department.  Instead, she pledged to work with all stakeholders to strike a balance between innovation and safety and have a national discussion to consider potential concerns, including vehicle cybersecurity.
Notably, questions about unrelated topics may shed light on the Administration’s broad philosophy that may have implications for NHTSA regulations.  Secretary Chao pledged to work with Congress on rolling back “burdensome regulations” and noted that any regulations should be based on data and science.
Leading up to today’s hearing, analysts noted that little was known about Secretary Chao’s perspective on transportation issues, certainly not on traffic safety.  Secretary Chao is broadly considered to be qualified for the post and a well-connected Republican insider.  She is Senator Mitch McConnell’s wife and served as Secretary of Labor under the George W. Bush Administration and Deputy Secretary of Transportation under the George H.W. Bush administration; a brief bio can be viewed here.
An archived version of the full webcast of the hearing can be viewed here:
Russ Martin
Director of Government Relations
Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA)
444 N. Capitol Street, NW Suite 722
Washington, DC  20001-1534
202-789-0942, ext. 180