Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was confirmed by an overwhelming Senate majority on Jan. 31, after voicing her strong support of the U.S.-flag maritime industry. Chao is a longtime advocate for the Jones Act and the U.S. Merchant Marine, and during her service as Secretary of Labor during the George W. Bush administration, she made multiple visits to the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education, meeting with mariners and touring the facilities in Piney Point, Maryland.
Upon hearing that Chao had been confirmed, SIU President Michael Sacco said, “I enthusiastically congratulate Secretary Chao on her confirmation as the new United States Secretary of Transportation. Having worked together for many years, I am grateful to call her not only a tremendous leader but also a true friend. Secretary Chao is a stalwart defender of American-flag shipping and U.S. mariners, and I believe our entire industry is excited to know she is at the helm of DOT.”
During her confirmation hearing in early January, Chao stated, “The Jones Act is a very important program that secures national security. We have seen two wars now in the last 25 years…. If we did not have the merchant marine assets to assist the gray hulls (U.S. Navy ships) on these campaigns, our country would not have been able to supply our troops, bring the necessary equipment. All of that is not done on the gray bottoms, but rather the merchant marine bottoms.” She added, “The national security of the merchant marine fleet is part of the way that we are able to be effective overseas and protect this country. So, I am a great proponent of the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine fleet.”
“We need Secretary Chao as someone who has the experience and has common sense and would be in the position to offer level-headed, good experience-based advice to the government going forward,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said on the floor.
During the confirmation hearing, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) described the Jones Act as “a vitally important part of our maritime industry.”
After her confirmation, Wicker said, “Secretary Chao has a proven record of leadership, and I am confident she will use her vast experience to help rebuild our nation’s infrastructure. Her commitment to public service and dedication to implementing the president’s plan promise to usher in an era of renewed efforts for improving America’s transportation network.”
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware) said he was “pleased that, unlike many of the individuals that President Trump has nominated to the highest posts in government, Secretary Chao takes this position with a background in transportation issues and previous experience running a federal agency.”
Commerce Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) echoed those thoughts when he said, “It would be hard to come up with a more qualified nominee.”
“Your leadership and your experience will serve us well as the Secretary of Transportation, overseeing what we anticipate will be historic investment in our nation’s roads, bridges, airports and above all in our future,” Vice President Mike Pence said to Chao during her swearing-in.
In an email, Chao told the employees of the DOT, “As I begin my first day as U.S. Secretary of Transportation, I want to thank all of you – the department’s career professionals – for making the transition to new leadership a smooth one, and for welcoming us to the Department. As many of you may know, this will be my third time serving in the U.S. Department of Transportation. I look forward to working with you once again to ensure that the safety and efficiency of our country’s transportation systems are second to none.”
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