For now-former Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine ChaoActing DHS chief Chad Wolf stepping down Why Biden’s diversity efforts fall flat The Memo: GOP and nation grapple with what comes next MORE, last week’s deadly riot in the Capitol by Trump supporters hit too close to home.
Chao’s husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMichigan GOP lawmaker says he’s ‘strongly considering’ impeachment House Democrats unveil resolution to censure Rep. Mo Brooks over Capitol riots Capitol Police officer hailed as hero for drawing rioters away from Senate chamber MORE (R-Ky.), was rushed off the Senate floor to a secure location Wednesday shortly before the mob pushed its way into the chamber. Some of Chao’s closest friends were also in the Capitol building during the siege.
The following day, Chao became the first Cabinet member to resign in protest, citing “a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the President stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed.”
She officially left the administration on Monday.
A Transportation Department official told The Hill on Chao’s final day in office that the secretary’s decision to step down was a personal one, citing Chao’s friends, colleagues and husband.
When Chao notified White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsRepublicans wrestle over removing Trump Pressure grows on Trump to leave The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump finally concedes; 25th Amendment pressure grows MORE of her departure, she did so at essentially the same time that she informed her closest aides at the agency, the official said.
At 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Chao had a call with agency staff. The tweet officially announcing her resignation was posted at 1:37 p.m.
In her resignation letter to President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse GOP leader tells members to quit spreading lies on riot, antifa DC attorney general says Trump Organization improperly paid K bill incurred during inauguration 70K QAnon Twitter accounts suspended in the wake of Capitol riot MORE that evening, Chao said the riots “deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”
The two-page letter devoted just two lines to the mob attack on the Capitol.
By stepping down, Chao also removed herself from speculation about whether Cabinet members would support invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
When asked if the 25th Amendment was ever discussed before Chao’s resignation, the Transportation Department official indicated it was not.
Chao was not made available for comment following Thursday’s resignation letter.
Chao served as Trump’s lone Transportation secretary, making her one of just a handful of Cabinet members to stay with the administration for all four years. She previously served as Labor secretary for eight years under former President George W. Bush.
During an interview on Dec. 31, Chao indicated she intended to stay in her post atop the Transportation Department until Inauguration Day.
“We will now have to leave, we don’t get to serve forever, but I’m very proud of the record, the foundation that we have set for future administrations and for our country,” she told The Hill at the time.
Chao leaves an agency that was largely noncontroversial during Trump’s presidency, though the administration’s repeated promotion of an “Infrastructure Week” became a punchline inside the Beltway. The White House and Congress never came to an agreement on an infrastructure package.
At the end of last month, Chao said her biggest worry was the effect the pandemic was having on the transportation industry.
“I worry about the transit system because they’ve got to get up and running when our commuting traffic goes back to work. I’m concerned about Amtrak and Acela, I’m concerned about the airline industry, I’m concerned about the railroad industry. The health of our airline sector is a concern for this administration,” said Chao, who counted among her accomplishments the agency’s work toward deploying new technologies like drones, the hyperloop and autonomous vehicles.
She also said she didn’t have any plans to chat with her likely successor, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegTransportation Secretary Chao resigns in protest Buttigieg is blazing trails for LGBTQ equality 2020: A year in photos MORE.
“I don’t think he needs any advice from me,” Chao said. “If I had to say anything, it would be that the career professionals at the Department of Transportation are very experienced, very knowledgeable. The career professionals are the ones who keep the government functioning between administrations.”
But on Saturday, in between her resignation announcement and when she left the administration, she spoke on the phone with Buttigieg for about 30 minutes.
The agency official said Buttigieg reached out to Chao, and that the two had a good conversation.
The official said the transition to the Biden administration will proceed smoothly even with Chao’s early departure, noting that political appointees are staying until Jan. 20, and acting Secretary Steven Bradbury has taken over as head of the agency.
Updated at 5:38 p.m.