Senate easily confirms Trump’s Transportation pick

Senate easily confirms Trump’s Transportation pick
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President Trump’s nominee for Transportation secretary easily won confirmation on Tuesday, even amid fallout from the administration’s temporary ban on travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations.

In a 93-6 vote, the Senate endorsed Elaine Chao to lead the Transportation Department, where she is expected to be a crucial ally in helping Trump move a massive infrastructure package through Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer: Trump should take Kim Jong Un off 'trip coin' Overnight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' Free traders applaud Trump as China tariff threat recedes MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyWashington governor to make Iowa debut Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Google struggle to block terrorist content | Cambridge Analytica declares bankruptcy in US | Company exposed phone location data | Apple starts paying back taxes to Ireland Overnight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus MORE (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump claims a 'spy' on his campaign tried to help 'Crooked Hillary' win Rising star Abrams advances in Georgia governor race Webb: Drain the swamp MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenRising star Abrams advances in Georgia governor race Progressive rise is good news for Sanders, Warren Juan Williams: Trump gives life to the left MORE (D-Mass.) all voted against her. Schumer told reporters he opposed Chao because she has yet to take a public position on the White House's immigration ban.

Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTeacher defeats Kentucky state House majority leader in GOP primary Conservatives leery of FBI deal on informant Lobbying world MORE (R-Ky.) and is a veteran Cabinet member, was unanimously approved by voice vote during committee consideration. McConnell, however, voted "present" on Tuesday.

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Chao ran the Department of Labor under President George W. Bush and served as deputy Transportation secretary in the George H.W. Bush administration. She was also Federal Maritime Commission chairwoman and deputy Maritime administrator.

“It would be hard to come up with a more qualified nominee than Secretary Chao for this important role,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePoll: 8 in 10 people in key states concerned about driverless cars Hillicon Valley: Mnuchin urges antitrust review of tech | Progressives want to break up Facebook | Classified election security briefing set for Tuesday | Tech CEOs face pressure to appear before Congress Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Chao is set to be sworn in at 5 p.m., White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. 

Senators noted during her confirmation hearing that Congress has confirmed Chao four times previously, without a single dissenting vote on the Senate floor. 

The streak was broken Tuesday, however, just days after Trump signed a sweeping executive order banning immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries for 90 days; halting refugee resettlements for four months; and indefinitely suspending Syrian refugee resettlement.

Chao's floor vote also came as Democrats are gearing up for a fierce battle over Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, which he is expected to announce Tuesday evening. 

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonPoll: 8 in 10 people in key states concerned about driverless cars Ted Cruz and Bill Nelson give NASA a reality check on privatizing International Space Station Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Haspel as CIA chief | Trump offers Kim 'protections' if he gives up nukes | Dem amendments target Trump military parade MORE (D-Fla.), ranking member on the Transportation Committee, sent a letter to Chao on Monday asking her whether she agrees with the new immigration restrictions or was consulted in crafting them. 

He also wanted to know whether Chao thinks airlines should be reimbursed for the disruptions and confusion at airports over the weekend caused by the “lack of clear communication from the administration.”

Nelson, who has noted that his wife has a personal relationship with Chao, said on the Senate floor Tuesday that he spoke with the nominee by phone on Monday evening. Nelson said he is concerned Chao wasn't consulted by the administration on drafting the order, but urged his colleagues to support her so that Chao could work with the White House on critical issues in the future.

“What I found out in that conversation was the nominee to be the secretary of Transportation had not been consulted by the White House, not in advance, not during, not after, the implementation of those orders,” Nelson said. “We need Secretary Chao as someone who … will be in a position to offer level-headed, good experience-based advice to the government going forward.” 

Now that she’s confirmed, Chao hopes to establish an infrastructure "task force" to start exploring the best ways to upgrade the nation’s ailing transportation system. During her confirmation hearing, Chao expressed support for including some direct federal funding, streamlining regulations and upholding so-called “Buy America” rules in any infrastructure bill.

She also plans to enforce safety regulations, spur innovation on drones and self-driving cars and ensure equal access to transportation in both rural and urban areas. 

However, Chao has generally remained light on details about many of her policy ideas. She punted on whether she agrees with a contentious proposal to separate air traffic control from the federal government, a debate that will soon resurface in Congress as lawmakers prepare to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

While Chao is one of Trump’s least controversial Cabinet picks, there were still a few spots on her resume that had the potential to rankle Democrats, though none of the issues were brought up at her confirmation hearing.

She came under scrutiny in the past for cutting coal mine safety inspections when she ran the Labor Department and has also been criticized by organized labor over a labor dispute that closed some West Coast ports in 2002.

CNNMoney recently reported that Chao has made $1.2 million as a director at Wells Fargo, which has admitted to creating millions of fake accounts for its customers.