The members of a president’s Cabinet are supposed to serve the citizenry. As such, they take an oath to defend our nation’s Constitution.
While this used to be a given, what had been normal has been largely stood on its head in our era, with members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet often acting as though they’d pledged to honor and defend the businessman-chief executive, no matter what.
One Cabinet secretary, though, appears to have a different view, one that could politely be termed a bit more old-school: using the office to the benefit of her own interests and those of the family business.
A lengthy report published in The New York Times on Monday detailed myriad ways that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has appeared to work to aid her family’s international shipping business, Foremost Group, a company with deep ties to the Chinese government.
Though the secretary herself has no official role in the company, her actions, taken together, show her working to see that the family business had a seat at the table — sometimes literally.
The report in Monday’s Times begins with the tale of a canceled trip. Back in October 2017, nine months after Trump had been inaugurated as president, Chao had been scheduled to visit China, in her official capacity. But her plans to bring along at least one family member, and to have others sit in on meetings, raised a red flag with an official at the American embassy in Beijing.
After a series of questions, from government officials and journalists alike, the trip was scuttled — because of a scheduling conflict, don’t you know.
Chao, it must be noted, is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who, thanks largely to gifts from his wife’s family, is now one of the Senate’s richest members.
Before she was tapped to head the Department of Transportation under Trump, Chao had served as labor secretary in the administration of President George W. Bush. And during the eight years between those government appointments she made at least four trips to China with Foremost.
The report in The Times paints a portrait of a tangled web of money and influence and family connections. Oh, and government posts.
One wonders how Trump, who was on his way to London when the Times published its report on Chao, would feel about a member of his Cabinet working for the betterment of someone other than him. One can imagine that Trump would look approvingly at a department head trying to grease the skids for one of his real-estate projects. But someone trying to assist another? Maybe not so much. Or perhaps he won’t care a whit, just dismissing the report as “fake news,” Trump-speak for any news account he dislikes, no matter its veracity.
China’s shipping and shipbuilding interests are not ours. If our nation’s transportation secretary has her eye on the family business, even in part, can she at the same time be trusted to be putting America’s vital interests on the high seas at the top of her agenda?
In our nation, we, the people, are supposed to have the ultimate power. We need to be able to believe that those in Washington who have been elected or appointed to positions of importance have the needs of the country foremost in their minds. Taking even a cursory look at the Chao family business and the doings of the transportation secretary can give one serious pause, and then some.
Reprinted from The Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts, June 4.