In 2001, Bush 43 selected his Secretary of Labor, a Taiwanese-American woman with a long history of involvement in conservative causes. Elaine Chao resigned her position in the Heritage Foundation to accept the cabinet role. She would be the only cabinet member to serve all 8 years of the Bush administration, and the longest-serving Secretary of Labor since FDR’s time.
But not without controversy.
Under her stewardship of the Department of Labor, the government employed the Taft-Hartley act against the unions (and their employers) involved in the 2002 West Coast port workers’ strike. But the biggest stains on her record in Labor began in 2005. Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration had long had a “100 Percent Plan”: the goal of actually accomplishing all of its scheduled annual mine inspections in, well, the year they were scheduled. In 30 years, it had never happened. Chao’s approach was cunning, in a moving-the-goalposts sense; she cut over a hundred mine safety inspections from the schedule.
But then January 2, 2006 happened. The Sago Mine disaster trapped 13 coal miners in West Virginia for two days. Only one would survive (although heartbreaking initial media reports were that only one had died). Then August 6, 2007 happened. The Crandell Canyon Mine disaster trapped six workers underground. Attempts were mounted to rescue them, but a secondary collapse killed three rescue workers on August 16. The original trapped miners were presumed dead; their bodies were never (and will never be) recovered.
But, in 2008, the MSHA (at the reduced level of required inspections) made its 100% goal for the first time. Good news, everyone!
Of course, Chao is not wholly, or perhaps even directly, to blame for the sorry state of mine safety in America or the poor performance of the MSHA. On the other hand, there’s plenty to fault in her more directly-overseen duties. The GAO determined that, under her tenure, claims by the lowest-income brackets of employers were under-investigated by the Department of Labor. A separate GAO report determined that Chao’s process of outsourcing Labor activities to private corporations (a fetish we see in just about all of Trump’s cabinet picks) cost far more than Labor reported to Congress. And the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform determined that there was sufficient evidence to believe that Chao had campaigned in favor of Republican candidates at taxpayer expense, in violation of the Hatch Act (of course, as with pretty much all Hatch Act violations, nothing happened).
Following her tenure at Labor, she returned to the Heritage Foundation. And she did a few stints as a guest contributor to Fox News, because of course she did. Briefly, she joined the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, but resigned when they increased funding to the Sierra Club’s efforts to replace coal with renewables.
None of this, of course, suggests that she has any expertise whatsoever in Transportation. But she’s a favored daughter of the coal industry, and she’s a huge fan of privatization of government functions. That’s always popular in TrumpLand. She also has a firmly established reputation as a ladder-climbing narcissist; when she was appointed to Bush’s cabinet, she had gold medallions made with her image and name on them, and hired an assistant to carry her purse around for her. That’s also always popular in TrumpLand.
Oh, and one more thing. She’d been married since 1993, well before she got any of these prestigious federal appointments. Now, normally, its a dodgy topic, discussing the family of government officials. Public servants, even cabinet members, deserve their privacy.
Except that her husband is Mitch McConnell.
Drain the swamp, my ass.