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 SchumerTo make the House of Representatives work again, make it bigger Reforms can stop members of Congress from using their public office for private gain Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyBipartisanship alive and well, protecting critical infrastructure Overnight Defense: Senate sends 7B annual defense bill to Trump's desk | US sanctions Turkish officials over detained pastor | Korean War remains headed to Hawaii | Senators reassure allies on NATO support Dem strategist: It's 'far-left thinking' to call for Nielsen's resignation MORE (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBoogeywomen — GOP vilifies big-name female Dems RealClearPolitics editor: Moderate Democrats are losing even when they win Sanders tests his brand in Florida MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBoogeywomen — GOP vilifies big-name female Dems Overnight Health Care: Senate takes up massive HHS spending bill next week | Companies see no sign of drugmakers cutting prices, despite Trump claims | Manchin hits opponent on ObamaCare lawsuit Elizabeth Warren and the new communism 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 McConnellTrump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Sen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 ThuneSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up GOP leader criticizes Republican senators for not showing up to work Ex-Trump adviser: Shutdown 'not worst idea in the world' 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 NelsonDem campaign chairman expresses confidence over path to Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Dems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints 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.