President-elect Donald Trump talked up the importance of improving U.S. roads, highways, and airports on the campaign trail.
Now his potential appointees are saying that infrastructure investment is a priority of the incoming administration, even if no one has provided concrete details on how a mammoth $1 trillion spending plan will be implemented.
Trump has named longtime civil servant Elaine Chao as his choice for transportation secretary and tabbed billionaire investor Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary.
Chao, an inveterate Republican Washington insider who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, previously served for eight years as Secretary of Labor during the George W. Bush administration. She’s also the daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate.
Chao’s connections will come in handy once the details of Trump’s infrastructure investment plan come into focus; Republicans are typically opposed to big spending proposals, but Chao’s connections could help ease concerns in Congress.
As Secretary of Labor, Chao took flack from worker groups for stripping union protections and was cited by the Government Accountability Office for not doing enough to investigate complaints from minimum-wage workers. Yet, she was the only Bush secretary appointee to serve for his entire two terms.
Chao’s reception by the U.S. travel industry has been warm so far.
“The U.S. travel community heartily welcomes the selection of Elaine Chao as the next Secretary of Transportation,” said U.S. Travel Association president Roger Dow. “We look forward to working with Secretary Chao on federal transportation policies that are pro-connectivity, pro-growth and pro-traveler, which will hopefully include proposals to address the dire condition of U.S. airports within the administration’s first 100 days.”
Former Goldman Sachs executive Stephen Mnuchin, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Treasury, mentioned infrastructure in his first statements after being named to the role.
“We need to make sure our infrastructure is built for the 21st century,” said Mnuchin early Wednesday. Mnuchin also said Trump is considering creating an infrastructure bank to fund the investments, which would likely be accompanied by tax breaks and other perks for builders.
Here’s what Trump himself had to say recently about the need for improved U.S. infrastructure.
“The national debt has doubled. And you know the bad part about that? You think if the national debt has doubled, our infrastructure would be great, our country would be in great shape,” said Trump in an August speech. “We’d have beautiful roads, beautiful highways. You see where like 50 percent of the bridges are in danger in this country. And the roadways are a mess.
“I have a friend, he’s in the trucking business. He said, you know, for years, he had no problem. Now he buys these big, beautiful trucks, and the wheels get wiped out because of the potholes on the highways and things that he never had. So, you think with all of that doubling of the national debt, you’d really think that we’d be in good shape from the infrastructure standpoint, right? We’re not. We’re in very bad shape.”
He also said recently that his infrastructure plan will succeed and create lasting change, unlike President Obama’s investment from the American Reconstruction & Reinvestment Act.
“It’s going to be a big number but I think I am doing things that are more important than infrastructure, but infrastructure is still a part of it, and we’re talking about a very large-scale infrastructure bill,” said Trump in a conversation with the New York Times. “And that’s not a very Republican thing — I didn’t even know that, frankly.
“It didn’t work for Obama because unfortunately they didn’t spend the money last time on infrastructure. They spent it on a lot of other things. You know, nobody can find out where that last — you know, from a few years ago — where that money went. And we’re going to make sure it is spent on infrastructure and roads and highways.”