Yesterday, Elaine Chao was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Transportation by the Senate. Today’s her first day on the job. Transportation will only oversee the huge infrastructure upgrades Trump says he intends, with the job creation he promises. So, nothing big, right? But last weekend, after the massive demonstrations that broke out against Trump’s #MuslimBan at airports across the country, Sen. Bill Nelson submitted questions to Chao. Did she agree with the order? Was her advice sought? How would she approach “futher travel restrictions”? But Nelson’s questions were never even given to Chao by the transition team. That’s … not encouraging.
So – Senate roll call on Chao’s confirmation? 93-6-1. Cory Booker was among the handful of No votes: Booker, Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jeff Merkley and independent Bernie Sanders.
But your other senator Bob Menendez voted Yes.
Chao has a long, showy resume. And is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But the last time she was given a federal department to run, it was a disaster. Chao is the only cabinet member of the George W. Bush administration to make it all the way through his 8 years. Longest-serving Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins (1933-1945) under FDR. But Labor – whose mission is pretty damned important to working people was not well run under Chao. Understatement.
In 2008, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) had to trick Chao’s Labor Department to discover what was really going on there. GAO is independent and nonpartisan, the investigative arm of Congress, “congressional watchdog.” And they wanted to know if Labor was investigating complaints of wage theft and child labor some of its most fundamental responsibilities. So they filed some fake complaints, then waited to see if investigators followed up on them. The investigation, which then also involved tracking the agency’s handling of real complaints affecting more than a thousand people, revealed that Labor was barely functioning. Months went by before the agency even began looking into serious complaints.
Nothing serious – just ignoring a story of kids operating saws in a meatpacking plant: Those hopeless delays included GAO leaving a planting a (fictitious) complaint that children were being put to work at a California meatpacking plant during school hours – operating meat grinders and circular saws. After 4 months, Labor still hadn’t investigated, and the complaint wasn’t even in the database.
That was Chao’s stewardship the last time she ran a federal agency, though no doubt that fancy resume. Booker voted right on this, Menendez voted like he wasn’t paying much attention. Was this a function of Senate Democrats picking their battles? Here’s his number if you want to ask.