Mitch McConnell's Wife Elaine Chao Practicing The Art Of The Steal
If Donald Trump is impeached, his trial will take place in the Republican-controlled Senate. That's already a pretty friendly jury, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a personal connection to the Trump administration: His wife, Elaine Chao, is the secretary of Transportation. During his campaign, Trump promised to "drain the swamp," but he wound up staffing his administration with the debris found at the bottom. (Used Hypodermic sits on the president's Council of Economic Advisers.)
It's not like we impeach presidents every 20 years or so. Who could imagine such a big honking conflict of interest emerging between Senate leadership and White House? It's not like Chao wasn't qualified. She was secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush administration and her experience was supposed to help Trump with his big, bad infrastructure plans. Trump is a builder, according to his ghostwritten biography. He was going to give us bridges, roads, and transit systems -- or at least slap his name on existing ones. Nothing much happened there aside from a couple infrastructure weeks. Meanwhile Chao has pumped up the grift on her husband's behalf.
Politico reports that during Chao's first 14 months as Transportation secretary, 25 percent of her scheduled meetings were with officials from Kentucky. That's the state McConnell represents in the Senate. It's also 1.3 percent of the population. Indiana and Georgia tied for second place. They each received six percent of her time. Chao is presumably Transportation secretary for the entire nation, not just the states that voted for her boss.
Kentucky only has four Amtrak stations and none of them are in major cities. Chao doesn't need all those meetings to realize that. We imagine she's spent a good bit of time there already. McConnell's own staffers requested at least five of the Kentucky meetings. They clued Chao's staff in on which officials were "friends" or "loyal supporters."
It was revealed in June that the Transportation Department "paved the way" for $78 million in grants for some of McConnell's favorite projects. He's even bragged about having the hook-up while running for re-election.
MCCONNELL: How about that $11 million BUILD grant? It's done a lot to transform Owensboro, and I was really happy to have played a role in that.
The grant involved upgrading road connections to a commercial riverport in Owensboro, Kentucky, and changing a local parkway to a spur route, which could bring more business to the small town. This is high-class infrastructure -- the same kind McConnell otherwise blocks in the Senate for the pathetic slobs who aren't married to his wife. Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson called his meetings with Chao the "icing on the cake."
WATSON: [Chao is] a kind and generous lady, not to mention extremely smart, a true public servant, and a great friend to OBKY.
Don't forget to compliment her tremendous singing voice, Mr. Mayor. You want to stay in Chao's good graces. Beth Osbourne is executive director of Transportation for America, and Chao treats her like she's trying to unload Amway products.
OSBOURNE: Ever since she came in, it's been very hard to figure out how to get time with her. At the beginning of the administration we got a lot of questions about what it takes to meet with the secretary. People don't ask anymore. It's like they've given up.
The Department of Transportation claims that Chao has "traveled" to 31 states during her tenure and that any special attention she pays Kentucky is only natural because of her "home state" ties. She has lived in Kentucky since 1993. She was raised in New York, where her family members still live and her family business is based. However, she's demonstrated little interest in the repair of the bridges and tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey (the "Gateway" project). The president is also a longtime New Yorker, but he loathes this critical project that affects 800,000 riders per day. The serviced region comprises 17 percent of the country's population. That's because Trump is a sociopath who wants to screw over New York Senator Chuck Schumer. He couldn't give a shit about New York or New Jersey because neither state is going to help him reach 270 electoral votes. Kentucky only offers him eight EVs but a Senate majority leader in his pocket is priceless.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill from New Jersey has blasted Chao's obvious favoritism:
"[R]ather than working on behalf of all Americans, this administration is making partisan decisions with respect to our tax dollars. This is yet another blow to the taxpayers of New Jersey, who already subsidize states like Kentucky – a state that gets nearly three times the return on their federal tax dollars as compared to New Jersey.
One can't help but think: would we have already broken ground on Gateway if it were located in Kentucky, not New Jersey and New York?"
There are so many scandals going on in the Trump administration, it's easy to lose track of the lower tier ones, but this is just shameful. Steering federal money to their home states became harder for senators when earmarks (or "pork") were banned in 2011, but Mitch McConnell has found an effective marital loophole. We think it's important for couples to have common interests, but blatant corruption shouldn't be one of them.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.