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Elaine Chao

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Elaine Chao

Elaine Chao
24th United States Secretary of Labor
In office
January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009
President George W. Bush
Preceded by Alexis Herman
Succeeded by Hilda Solis
12th Director of the Peace Corps
In office
President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Paul Coverdell
Succeeded by Carol Bellamy
Personal details
Born (1953-03-26) March 26, 1953
Taipei, Taiwan
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Mitch McConnell
Alma mater Mount Holyoke College
Harvard Business School
Religion Southern Baptist
Elaine L. Chao
Traditional Chinese 趙 小 蘭
Simplified Chinese 赵 小 兰
Hanyu Pinyin Zhào Xiǎolán

Elaine Lan Chao (Taiwan to Chinese parents, she was the first Asian American woman in U.S. history to be appointed to a U.S. president's cabinet.[3] She is married to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.[4]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
    • Early career 2.1
    • United Way and Heritage Foundation 2.2
    • U.S. Secretary of Labor 2.3
      • Criticism and praise 2.3.1
    • Life after Bush administration 2.4
  • Personal life 3
    • Husband's campaigning 3.1
    • Family 3.2
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early life and education

Elaine Chao was born in Taipei, Taiwan. The eldest of six daughters, Chao was born to Ruth Mulan Chu Chao (趙朱木蘭 Zhào Zhū Mùlán), a historian, and Dr. James S.C. Chao (趙錫成 Zhào Xīchéng), who began his career as a merchant mariner and later founded a successful shipping company in New York called Foremost Shipping.[5] Chao's parents had fled to Taiwan from mainland China after the Chinese Communists took over after the Chinese Civil War in 1949. When she was eight years old, in 1961, Chao came to the United States on a freight ship with her mother and two younger sisters. Her father had arrived in New York three years earlier after receiving a scholarship.[6]

Chao attended Tsai Hsing Elementary School in Taipei for kindergarten and first grade, and attended Syosset High School in Syosset, New York, in the United States.[7] She received a B.A. in Economics from Mount Holyoke College in 1975 and an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1979. At Mount Holyoke, she played field hockey and was a member of the horseback riding club; she also edited the yearbook, served as the student representative for the economics department, and worked as a Mount Holyoke recruiter.[8]

Chao has received 35

Government offices
Preceded by
Paul Coverdell
Director of the Peace Corps
Succeeded by
Carol Bellamy
Political offices
Preceded by
Alexis Herman
U.S. Secretary of Labor
Served under: George W. Bush

Succeeded by
Hilda Solis
  • Elaine Chao's official website
  • Heritage Foundation profile
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
  • Elaine Chao history at Department of Labor
  • Elaine Chao Video produced by Makers: Women Who Make America
  • [2]

External links

  1. ^ Hsiao-lan means "little orchid".
  2. ^ U.S. Public Records Index, Volume 1 [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Voter Registration Lists, Public Record Filings, Historical Residential Records, and Other Household Database Listings
  3. ^ "Press Briefing by Administration Officials on American Competitiveness Initiative", (February 1, 2006), retrieved February 25, 2009
  4. ^ a b c d e f Horowitz, Jason (May 13, 2014). "Girding for a Fight, McConnell Enlists His Wife". New York Times. 
  5. ^ "James S. C. Chao".  
  6. ^ "Elaine L. Chao Biography". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  7. ^ Christopher Marquis (January 12, 2001). "Woman in the News; A Washington Veteran for Labor; a Tested Negotiator for Trade; Elaine Lan Chao".  
  8. ^ Anne-Gerard Flynn (November 6, 2014). "Woman in red dress with Mitch McConnell: Elaine Chao, wife, former labor secretary, and Mount Holyoke graduate".  
  9. ^ "Elaine L. Chao Official Biography". Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Chao Receives Doctorate from Georgetown University". Retrieved May 16, 2015. 
  11. ^ a b "Elaine L. Chao". Bloomberg Business. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  12. ^ "[开讲啦]20131026 赵小兰——永远不要将门关上". ChinaVideos 中国纪录片. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  13. ^ a b "Elaine L. Chao Biography".  
  14. ^ Geraldine Baum (January 19, 1992). "An Insider Moves Out, Up".  
  15. ^ Schreiber, Ronnee (2011). "Pro-Women, Pro-Palin, Antifeminist: Conservative Women and Conservative Movement Politics". In Aberbach, Joel D.; Peele, Gillian. Crisis of Conservatism?: The Republican Party, the Conservative Movement, and American Politics After Bush. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 135.  
  16. ^ Elaine Chao (December 11, 2008). "Portrait Unveiling Remarks". Elaine L. Chao. 
  17. ^ "Chao becomes fifth-longest-serving Secretary of Labor". Peace Corps Online. Retrieved December 21, 2007. 
  18. ^ "US Department of Labor History". Retrieved September 16, 2009. 
  19. ^ "Elaine Chao".  
  20. ^ David E. Sanger; Steven Greenhouse (October 9, 2002). "President Invokes Taft-Hartley Act to Open 29 Ports". New York Times. 
  21. ^ W. James Antle III (January 14, 2009). "Ciao, Elaine". National Review Online. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Bush economic team hits the road to promote tax cuts". Kentucky New Era. July 29, 2003. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  23. ^ Farber, Daniel A. (2014). Cases and Materials on Environmental Law (Ninth ed.). St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co. p. 69.  
  24. ^ "GAO Case Studies from Ongoing Work Show Examples in Which Wage and Hour Division Did Not Adequately Pursue Labor Violations – Statement of Gregory D. Kutz, Managing Director Forensic Audits and Special Investigations" (PDF). July 15, 2008. 
  25. ^ 解读美国第一位华裔部长赵小兰及其家族 (in Chinese). November 24, 2009. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  26. ^ Mark Clayton and Amanda Paulson (January 6, 2006). "Sago raises red flags for mine oversight".  
  27. ^ "MSHA Completes 100% of Annual Mine Inspections" (PDF). Retrieved December 10, 2008. 
  28. ^ Michael A. Fletcher (December 1, 2008). "Labor Dept. Accused of Straying From Enforcement".  
  29. ^ Smith, R. Jeffrey (April 2, 2009). "Initiative On Worker Safety Gets Poor Marks: IG's Report Links Weak Enforcement To Job Fatalities". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  30. ^ "U.S. Labor Department's OSHA highlights another successful enforcement year in FY 2008" (PDF). Retrieved December 19, 2008. 
  31. ^ "OSHA Injury & Illness Data FY2007". Retrieved December 19, 2008. 
  32. ^ Carol D. Leonnig (November 25, 2008). "GAO Report Says Labor Department Misled Congress on Cost of Outsourcing Jobs". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Better Cost Assessments and Departmentwide Performance Tracking Are Needed to Effectively Manage Competitive Sourcing Program" (PDF). November 2008. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  34. ^ The Activities of the White House Office of Political Affairs Archived December 3, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ R. Jeffrey Smith (October 15, 2008). "Report Details Bush Officials' Partisan Trips: House Panel Finds Federal Appointees Attended Many Events on Taxpayers' Dime". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  36. ^ "Elaine Chao: Director of the Day". Center for Economic and Policy Research. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  37. ^ "Elaine L. Chao, director since 2011". Wells Fargo. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  38. ^
  39. ^ "Dole | Company Info | Biography". Dole. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  40. ^ "Protective Life: Board of Directors". Protective Life. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  41. ^ "Bush Cabinet Member Will Advise Gyro". Gyro. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  42. ^ Rick Segal (October 27, 2011). "CMOs Explore Work-Life Balance and Brands".  
  43. ^ "Louisville 2011 Woodrow Wilson Awards". Wilson Center. June 24, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  44. ^ "Bloomberg Family Foundation Announces Four New Board Members". Bloomberg Philanthropies. April 5, 2012. 
  45. ^ Youngman, Sam (January 21, 2015). "Elaine Chao resigns from Bloomberg board as it increases 'Beyond Coal' investments".  
  46. ^ "Angela Chao Attends Naming Ceremony of Lan May in Shanghai, China". YouTube. Angela Chao. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  47. ^ "前美国劳工部长赵小兰:中美关系应着眼世界". Glover Danny. Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  48. ^ "20130912 说给孩子第1季 赵小兰". 凤凰卫视精品官方频道 iFeng Premium Comment. Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  49. ^ "Open house set Nov. 12 for new McConnell-Chao archive". University of Louisville Today (University of Louisville). November 11, 2009. 
  50. ^ "Mission of the Archives". McConnell-Chao Archives and Civic Education Gallery. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  51. ^ a b Jay Newton-Small (November 9, 2014). "Mitch McConnell's Secret Weapon: His Wife". Time Magazine. 
  52. ^ Bailey, Phillip M. (August 4, 2014). "Democratic Strategist Under Fire for Criticizing Mitch McConnell's 'Asian' Wife". WKMS. 
  53. ^ a b "Paid Notice: Deaths – Chao, Ruth Mulan Chu". New York Times. August 8, 2007. 
  54. ^  
  55. ^ John Bresnahan; Manu Raju (June 12, 2009). "Members' fortunes see steep declines". Politico. 
  56. ^ Fang, Lee (October 30, 2014). "Mitch McConnell's Freighted Ties to a Shadowy Shipping Company". The Nation. 
  57. ^ John Lauerman (October 12, 2012). "Harvard Business School Gets $40 Million Gift From Chao Family". Bloomberg Business. 
  58. ^ "Harvard Business School Building Boom Continues".  


In 2012 the family donated $40 million to Harvard Business School for scholarships for students of Chinese heritage and the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center, an executive education building named for Chao's late mother.[57][58] Her mother Ruth Mulan Chu Chao returned to school at age 51 to earn a master's degree in Asian literature and history from St. John's University.[53]

Her father, James S.C. Chao, is a shipping magnate who founded the Foremost Group. In April 2008, Chao's father gifted Chao and McConnell between $5 million and $25 million, which "boosted McConnell's personal worth from a minimum of $3 million in 2007 to more than $7 million"[55] and "helped the McConnells after their stock portfolio dipped in the wake of the financial crisis that year".[56]

Chao is the oldest of six sisters, the others being Jeannette, May, Christine, Grace, and Angela.[53][54] The New York Times reported that "several of her five younger sisters married Wall Street titans, including Bruce Wasserstein, the late owner of New York Magazine".


The New York Times has described her as "an unapologetically ambitious operator with an expansive network, a short fuse, and a seemingly inexhaustible drive to get to the top and stay there". It reported that as labor secretary, she "had gold-colored coins minted with her name in bas-relief and employed a "Veep"-like staff member who carried around her bag".[4]

Additionally, she can adds "a softer touch" to McConnell's style, for example, by speaking of him "in a feminine, wifely way", as a Jan Karzen, a longtime friend of McConnell's, put it.[4] For example, she has been described as "the campaign hugger".[51] She is also known for bipartisan socializing; for example, in 2014 she hosted a dinner with philanthropist Catherine B. Reynolds to welcome Penny Pritzker as Secretary of Commerce, where she spent the evening socializing with Valerie Jarrett, Obama's top advisor.[4]

In the two years leading up to the 2014 U.S. Senate elections, she "headlined fifty of her own events and attended hundreds more with and on behalf of" her McConnell, and was seen as "a driving force of his reelection campaign" and eventual victory over Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who had portrayed McConnell as "anti-women".[51] After winning the election, McConnell said, "The biggest asset I have by far is the only Kentucky woman who served in a president's cabinet, my wife, Elaine Chao".[52]

Husband's campaigning

The University of Louisville's Ekstrom Library opened the "McConnell-Chao Archives" in November 2009. It is a major component of the university's McConnell Center.[49][50]

[4] In 1993, Chao married

Personal life

She also organizes the "orientation for the spouses of Republican senators" in Washington, D.C.[4]

In 2013, Chao recorded a motivational video to inspire Asian-American children.[48]

In 2011 and 2013, Chao attended Shanghai signing ceremonies for Capesize bulkers launched by the Foremost Group, her father's company, where she spoke publicly about U.S.–China relations.[46] At the 2013 ceremony, Chao stated, "The U.S.-China relations is among the most important bilateral relationships in the world. And as such, there is no other alternative but to have a harmonious and a cooperative relationship. As with any relationship, there are bound to be ups, downs, disagreements, but in the overall scheme of things, in the overall direction, for the benefit of the world, U.S. and China must get along, and must find a way to do so".[47]

In January 2015 she resigned from the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which she had joined in 2012,[44] because of its plans to significantly increase support for the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" initiative.[45]

She also serves as a director on a number of corporate and non-profit boards,[11][36] including the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Wells Fargo,[37] New York Presbyterian Hospital, News Corp.,[38] Dole Food Company,[39] and Protective Life Corporation.[40][41][42] In June 2011, she was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service.[43]

In 2009 Chao resumed her previous role as a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and she contributes to Fox News and other media outlets.

Life after Bush administration

A report by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, under the Chairmanship of Henry A. Waxman (D–Calif.), alleged that Chao and other White House officials campaigned for Republican candidates at taxpayer expense.[34] The report described this as a violation of the Hatch Act of 1939, which restricts the use of public funds for partisan gain,[35] but no action was taken by any entity with responsibility for enforcing the Hatch Act.

A 2008 Government Accountability Office report noted that the Labor Department gave Congress inaccurate numbers that understated the expense of contracting out its employees' work to private firms during Chao's tenure.[32][33]

A 2008 report by the department's inspector general found that despite implementation of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006, mine safety regulators did not conduct federally required inspections at more than 14% of the country's 731 underground coal mines, and that the number of worker deaths in mining accidents more than doubled to 47.[28] A 2009 internal audit appraising an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) initiative focusing on problematic workplaces revealed that employees had failed to gather needed data, conducted uneven inspections and enforcement, and failed to discern repeat fatalities because records misspelled the companies' names or failed to notice when two subsidiaries with the same owner were involved.[29] However, OSHA statistics for 2007 and 2008 revealed that overall workplace fatality rates and workplace injury and illness rates were "both at all-time lows".[30][31]

Chao's tenure as Labor Secretary saw two mine disasters for which she was criticized. Twelve miners were killed in the Sago Mine disaster on January 2, 2006, and three rescue workers died in the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster on August 6, 2007. Before the mines collapsed, Chao had cut more than a hundred coal mine safety inspections.[25] According to the Christian Science Monitor, "Nearly half of the 208 safety citations levied in 2005 against the Sago coal mine where 12 men died this week were 'serious and substantial.'"[26] On December 10, 2008, Chao announced that the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) had, in the first year of the agency's 100 Percent Plan, achieved its goal of completing every mandated regular inspection for the year, a first in the agency's 31-year history.[27]

After analyzing 70,000 closed case files from 2005 to 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Department's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) inadequately investigated complaints from low- and minimum-wage workers alleging that employers failed to pay the federal minimum wage, required overtime, and failed to issue a last paycheck.[24]

During Chao's first four years as Secretary of Labor, OSHA did not promulgate a single significant health standard.[23]

Criticism and praise

In July and August 2003, Chao and her colleagues, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, took a bus across the country on their "Jobs and Growth Tour" aimed at promoting the benefits of the Bush administration's tax cuts.[22]

In 2002, a major west coast ports dispute costing the U.S. economy nearly $1 billion daily was resolved when the it successfully instituted the Taft-Hartley Act for the first time since 1971.[20] In 2003, for the first time in more than 40 years, the Department updated the labor union financial disclosure regulations under the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959 to provide union members with more information on union finances. In 2004, the Department issued significant revisions of the white-collar overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.[21]

Under her leadership, the U.S. Department of Labor undertook significant regulatory and legislative reforms in "protecting the health, safety, wages, and retirement security" of U.S. workers by "recovering record levels of back wages and monetary recoveries for pension plans, and obtaining record financial settlements for discrimination by federal contractors". She also restructured departmental programs and modernized regulations to boost the competitiveness of America's workforce.[19]

[18].Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served from 1933 to 1945, under President Frances Perkins She was also the longest-serving Secretary of Labor since [17] Chao was the only cabinet member in the

Portrait of Elaine Chao by Chen Yanning in the Great Hall of the U.S. Department of Labor's Frances Perkins Building. It features the American flag, the Kentucky state flag, the U.S. Capitol, and photos of her husband, Mitch McConnell, and her parents, James and Ruth Chao.[16]

U.S. Secretary of Labor

Following her service in the government, Chao worked for four years as President and CEO of William Aramony. From 1996 until her appointment as Secretary of Labor, Chao was a Distinguished Fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. She was also a board member of the Independent Women's Forum.[15] She returned to the Heritage Foundation after leaving the government in January 2009.

United Way and Heritage Foundation

In 1986, Chao became Deputy Administrator of the Peace Corps.[13] She was the first Asian Pacific American to serve in any of these positions. She expanded the Peace Corps's presence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by establishing the first Peace Corps programs in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and other newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.[14]

Chao was granted a White House Fellowship in 1983 during the Reagan administration. In October 2013, Chao told a game show audience that the fellowship was part of a special program with Citicorp. "They selected outstanding performers within the bank and gave them an opportunity to support them for a stint in the government", Chao said.[12]

Before entering politics, Chao was vice president for syndications at Bank of America Capital Markets Group in San Francisco, California, and an international banker at Citicorp in New York for four years.[11]

Early career



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