I know this is a couple of days old, but bear with me.
President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Elaine Chao, the former labor secretary and wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to be his choice for transportation secretary, an official briefed on the matter told CNN on Tuesday.
Chao served as secretary of labor under President George W. Bush from 2001 through 2009 — the longest tenure in the position since World War II — and has been married to McConnell since 1993. She was the first Asian-American woman to serve in a Cabinet position.
Chao also served as the deputy secretary of transportation under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1991. Following her time in government, Chao has held a position as a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation in addition to conducting media appearances.
Two Bushes and a Mitch McConnell, sounds like some serious swamp draining to me.
Meanwhile, you know someone’s really a threat to business as usual in D.C. when Chuck Shumer comes out with unbridled praise. As Politico notes:
Top Senate Democrats signaled that Chao may not face much of a fight to get confirmed, with incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) congratulating her earlier on Tuesday for her exepcted nomination and praising her for her “long history of service to our country.”
There’s also this…
Although Chao worked for the relatively moderate Bush administration, she’s got serious conservative bona fides. During her eight-year tenture at the Labor Department, for example, she drew fire from labor unions and liberals for doing too little to enforce existing laws on wages, overtime and workplace safety. And federal employees threw a “good riddance” party when she left.
“She was a terrible Labor Secretary,” said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “She cut the enforcement budgets and … OSHA protections, thereby leaving workers less safe and more likely to be cheated on their wages.”
Her most significant accomplishment was a 2004 update to the rules governing overtime. Chao boosted the salary threshold under which virtually all workers were guaranteed time-and-a-half pay to $23,660, up from $13,000. But she also made it more difficult for workers who earned above that threshold to receive time-and-a-half overtime pay, prompting howls of outrage from congressional Democrats.
Sure sounds like someone prepared to fight for the little guy.
Interestingly enough, all that is just the tip of the iceberg. As WND notes:
WASHINGTON – Elaine Chao is not exactly the kind of Cabinet pick you would expect from outsider Donald Trump.
The Bush administration retread has deep ties to the anti-coal Bloomberg Foundation, is married to big-time Trans-Pacific Partnership supporter and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and has deep business and political links to China.
And that’s just the beginning of her resume.
As WND reported, when President George W. Bush nominated her to be his labor secretary, Chinese dissidents like Hongda “Harry” Wu were shocked.
“I worry about Elaine Chao’s business relationship with communist China,” he said in 2001. “This woman has a significant shipping business through her father.”
James S.C. Chao is the founder of New York-based Foremost Maritime Corp., which ships goods to China and also buys ships from the China State Shipbuilding Corporation. Chao’s ties to former Chinese President Jiang Zemin run deep. The two were classmates at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai and have kept in touch ever since.
She has lobbied for normalized trade with China and has downplayed concerns about China’s growing military threat, espionage campaigns in the U.S. and human rights abuses.
McConnell has been China’s biggest Republic booster in the Senate. Chao sought out John Huang to help raise money for Republican senators in 1989 – beating Bill and Hillary Clinton to the punch in 1992. In 1993, Huang, then head of Lippo Bank, rounded up a coalition of Chinese banks and individuals to sponsor Chao’s visit to Los Angeles as the new head of United Way. Huang gave McConnell $2,000 in illegal donations as part of a foreign money-laundering scheme — one of only two contributions Huang made to Republicans.
When she served the conservative Heritage Foundation as Asian studies adviser, a military analyst who sounded warnings about Chinese threats to U.S. security was shown the door, WND reported at the time. Chao served at Heritage beginning in 1996 before leaving to become Bush’s labor secretary in 2001. While at Heritage, the think tank opened an office in Hong Kong.
“Elaine Chao was part of the deal that got Rick Fisher fired from Heritage,” a congressional aide who worked with him on China matters told WND. “She pushed him out not because of free-trade issues, but because he raised national security concerns over China.”
A Heritage insider agreed: “She was not supportive of any of his writings on the Chinese military.”
One of her patrons was Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, a pro-China lobbyist whose insurance company does business in China. During a Heritage debate over normalizing trade with China, Greenberg protested a Heritage paper by analyst Stephen J. Yates. It suggested Congress postpone the vote on the trade bill to consider adding national security measures, such as tightening controls on exports with military applications.
After Greenberg threatened to cut off funding, Heritage issued a new report: “How Trade with China Benefits Americans,” which was co-authored by Fisher’s replacement, Larry M. Wortzel, at the Asian Studies Center. The May 5, 2000, report buried concerns about China’s defense buildup and its hunger for military-related exports.
For more on how “think tanks” really operate, see: The Dirty Business of U.S. ‘Think Tanks’.
Greenberg and AIG, through its employee PAC, also have donated thousands of dollars to Chao’s husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell, federal records show. AIG and McConnell have been major boosters of cozier trade relations with China – something that would seem to be anathema to Trump.
AIG, with offices in Shanghai, is a major client of Henry A. Kissinger, who has gotten rich as a paid consultant for U.S. companies seeking greater access to China.
Does anyone even remember Chinagate? WND reported back in 2001 that a review of financial assets held by Chao and her husband, McConnell, reveals she has served as a director of an insurance company that jointly owns a Lippo Group subsidiary with the Chinese government. Indonesia-based Lippo is controlled by the Riady family and was at the center of the Clinton Chinagate fundraising scandal.
Lippo chief executive James T. Riady agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of defrauding the U.S. government by funneling donations to the campaign of Bill Clinton – and others.
Speaking of foreign trade, remember the TransPacific Partnership, or TPP, and all the Trump campaign promises about killing it?
While Trump swept to power by denouncing TPP, McConnell announced in 2015 that he would surrender Congress’ ability to amend the agreement and permit the Obama administration to work out the details. TPP became so unpopular during the 2016 election that even Hillary Clinton had to come out against it.
Chao served on the board of directors of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another anti-Trumper who flirted with the notion of running a third-party candidacy against him. Bloomberg gives the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign $50 million a year. The objective? To end the country’s reliance on “dirty coal, plant-by-plant, community-by-community, state-by-state.” Trump promised to put the coal miners back to work.
Chao has also served on the board of Wells Fargo, which has bankrolled anti-coal efforts. Ironic since McConnell’s home state is Kentucky – coal country.
As we all know, that’s not the only thing Wells Fargo has been up to lately.
But there’s more. Let’s revisit one of the most popular posts I ever published. Here are a few excerpts from the 2014 post: 90 Pounds of Cocaine Found on Cargo Ship Owned by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Father-in-Law.
Before the Ping May, a rusty cargo vessel, could disembark from the port of Santa Marta en route to the Netherlands in late August, Colombian inspectors boarded the boat and made a discovery. Hidden in the ship’s chain locker, amidst its load of coal bound for Europe, were approximately 40 kilograms, or about 90 pounds, of cocaine. A Colombian Coast Guard official told The Nation that there is an ongoing investigation.
The seizure of the narcotics shipment in the Caribbean port occurred far away from Kentucky, the state in which Senator Mitch McConnell is now facing a career-defining election. But the Republican Senate minority leader has the closest of ties to the owner of the Ping May, the vessel containing the illicit materials: the Foremost Maritime Corporation, a firm founded and owned by McConnell’s in-laws, the Chao family.
Though Foremost has played a pivotal role in McConnell’s life, bestowing the senator with most of his personal wealth and generating thousands in donations to his campaign committees, the drug bust went unnoticed in Kentucky, where every bit of McConnell-related news has generated fodder for the campaign trail. That’s because, like many international shipping companies, Chao’s firm is shrouded from public view, concealing its identity and limiting its legal liability through an array of tax shelters and foreign registrations. Registered through a limited liability company in the Marshall Islands, the Ping May flies the Liberian flag.
McConnell’s ties to the Chaos go back to the late 1980s, when James Chao began donating to the senator. In 1993, McConnell married James’s daughter, Elaine Chao, a Republican activist and then-former Reagan administration official who would later serve as Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush cabinet. James Chao emigrated to the United States from Taiwan, and founded the Foremost Maritime Corporation upon settling in New York. The company has grown significantly over the years, from acting as maritime agent during the Vietnam War to controlling a fleet of approximately 16 dry bulk cargo ships in operation today.
The recent seizure of cocaine on a Foremost coal ship came as authorities in Colombia have stepped up anti-drug trafficking enforcement in the region. The Nation spoke to Luis Gonzales, an official with the Colombian Coast Guard in Santa Marta, who told us that the Ping May’s crew were questioned as part of an ongoing investigation, but that no charges have yet been filed. His team found the cocaine in forty separate packages.
The Republican Senate minority leader’s personal wealth grew seven-fold over the last ten years thanks in large part to a gift given to him and his wife in 2008 from James Chao worth between $5 million and $25 million (Senate ethics forms require personal finance disclosures in ranges of amounts, rather than specific figures). The gift helped the McConnells after their stock portfolio dipped in the wake of the financial crisis that year, and ensured they could pay off more than $100,000 in mortgage debt on their Washington home.
The generous gift made McConnell one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, with a net worth averaging around $22.8 million, according to the Washington Post’s review of his financial disclosures.
The ties between McConnell and his in-laws have come under scrutiny before. In 2001, they were probed in depth by The New Republic in an article that charged that McConnell led an effort to soften his party’s criticism of China. Through James Chao, who was a classmate of Jiang Zemin, the president of China in the 90s, McConnell and his wife met with Jiang several times, both in Beijing and in Washington. McConnell subsequently tempered his criticism of Chinese human rights abuses, and broke with hawks like Senator Jesse Helms to support Most Favored Nation trading status with China. As Foremost established closer ties with mainland China, McConnell endorsed the position that the United States should remain “ambiguous” about coming to the defense of Taiwan. In 1999, McConnell and his wife appeared at the University of Louisville with Chinese Ambassador Li Zhaoxing. Li used the opportunity to bash congressional leaders for rebuking China over its repression of the Falun Gong religious sect. “Any responsible government will not foster evil propensities of cults by being over-lenient,” Li reportedly said at the event with McConnell and Chao. Rather than distance himself from the remarks, McConnell reportedly spoke about his “good working relationship” with Li.
If your stated mission was to find the most swampy family around, it’d be hard to find a more qualified one than Elaine Chao and her Senate Majority leader husband, Mitch McConnell.
For prior articles on Mitch McConnell, see:
Unfortunately, there’s more. When it comes to filling the swamp, it appears Trump may be just getting started. How about this gem published by Politico yesterday.
President-elect Donald Trump is considering Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn for a senior administration job, possibly as director of the Office of Management and Budget, several sources close to the situation said on Wednesday.
People familiar with the matter say Cohn’s meeting with Trump on Tuesday included talks about a potential job in the new administration, possibly to run OMB, a sprawling office that will handle much of Trump’s budget policy after he takes office in January.
Cohn, who is friendly with Republicans and Democrats in Washington, is a longtime commodities trader who became Goldman’s president and co-chief operating officer in 2006. He has long been the heir apparent to Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein. But with Blankfein showing no inclination to leave after battling cancer, Cohn may be looking to take on a new challenge. He is friendly with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Trump is “draining the swamp,” like Obama saved the economy.
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