It sure is good to learn that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is equally as motivated by personal gain as her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They’re two peas in a pod.
Chao, who was swiftly confirmed to her cabinet post in January 2017 by the Senate that’s run by her husband Mitch McConnell, was forced to scrap a trip to China later that year after she tried to get State Department officials to serve as travel agents for a family member. In the same trip, she sought to have her relatives, who run a prominent American shipping company in China, included in a government meeting with Chinese officials. After State Department officials at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing flagged the requests and reporters began asking questions, Chao suddenly backed out of the trip. Nonetheless, during Chao’s first year leading the Transportation Department, her calendar included “at least 21 interviews or meetings with Chinese-language news organizations,” according to reporting by the New York Times.
It just so happens that Chao and McConnell have been big beneficiaries, both personally and politically, of the Foremost Group shipping company run by Chao’s family. Chao’s father James ran the company until last year and showered the two with “millions of dollars in gifts.” Chao’s father and sister Angela, who has taken over as the company’s CEO, have also funneled more than $1 million in donations to McConnell’s campaign coffers. McConnell has always been a huge fan of politics being awash in money, and he has relied heavily on out-fundraising his opponents to make up for what he lacks in natural charisma as a politician.
On top of it all, Chao now oversees the American shipping industry as Transportation Secretary, raising obvious conflict of interest issues.
But her efforts to promote the company in China, particularly among government officials, are also at odds with the Trump administration’s current posture toward China on trade. Foremost, for instance, has secured “hundreds of millions of dollars in loan commitments” from a state-run bank in China. The company also has long-term agreements with a state-owned steel maker that help ensure Foremost maintains a steady stream of revenues. Chao’s sister and father have also sat on the board of a state-owned company that builds ships for the Chinese military, while her sister also sits on the board of Bank of China, one of the state-owned shipbuilders’ primary lenders.
In the meantime, Chao in her capacity at Transportation Secretary has been actively slashing efforts to shore up the American shipping industry. In other words, while her family’s business has cozied up to the Chinese government to promote its business interests, Chao is effectively undermining the American shipping industry here at home.
That conflict of interest has caught the eye of lawmakers like California Rep. Alan Lowenthal, whose district features a massive cargo port. “The Chinese government is massively engaged in maritime expansion as we have walked away from it,” Lowenthal told the Times. “There is going to come a crisis, and we are going to call upon the U.S. maritime industry, and it is not going to be around.”
The Times piece is lengthy and includes a statement from Chao, though she did not grant an interview. A Transportation Department spokesperson accused the Times of weaving “together a web of innuendos and baseless inferences.” The Times maintained that its reporting uncovered “the Chaos had an extraordinary proximity to power in China for an American family.”