Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao received the confirmation of the full Senate on Tuesday. That’s the last hurdle for Chao, who now becomes the head of the Department of Transportation, replacing the outgoing Secretary Anthony Foxx, who was nominated by Barack Obama in 2013 and served until Trump’s inauguration on January 20.
Chao served as the Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush, and as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under George H.W. Bush, and was the least contentious of all of Trump’s nominees for cabinet positions, both in terms of support from the Senate and from industry leaders. Chao has been a popular pick among tech industry executives focused on transportation, owing to her signalled interest in enlisting more public-private partnerships in solving transportation problems, and in lessening regulatory barriers for private entities working in the space.
During her confirmation hearing before the Senate committee earlier this month, Chao was asked repeatedly about autonomous vehicle technology, drones and connected cars, and her answers always centered around strong national leadership for these areas of development, working in close partnership with industry so as to avoid stifling “innovation and creativity” through overly burdensome regulatory frameworks.
The Self-Driving Coalition, an industry group made up of OEMs including Ford, Lyft, Waymo, Volvo and Uber sent a note to TechCrunch immediately upon her confirmation congratulating Secretary Chao, which should help provide some indication of industry’s excitement about her selection. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), an industry organization with works with the DoT and FAA on establishing favorable drone development policy, likewise sent through a message of congratulations.
At her confirmation vote Tuesday, Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), easily had one of the most agreeable confirmation hearings of this round of cabinet appointments. Chao cleared the 60-vote threshold easily, with a final tally of 93 for and 6 against, but did face protest votes from Democratic Senators including Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).