The Capitol was abuzz this week with the first nomination hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet. While many of these spurred contentious debate, Ms. Elaine Chao, nominee for secretary of the Department of Transportation and cabinet veteran of both Bush administrations (deputy transportation secretary and secretary of labor), did not face significant opposition in Wednesday’s confirmation hearing with the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The department has oversight of waterborne commerce and our nation’s ports and waterways, which are included in our national infrastructure – something President-elect Trump has already talked about repairing and upgrading. Ms. Chao stated her support for large infrastructure projects, including maritime ones, and highlighted the value of public-private sector partnerships in making these a reality. Ms. Chao also stressed the role of science in her testimony, stating that “regulatory decisions should be rooted in sound science and data.” It is anticipated that Ms. Chao will be confirmed when the full Senate votes on her nomination.
Likewise, the nominee for secretary of the Department of Defense, which includes authority over the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, received overwhelming support during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis discussed our nation’s role in the changing Arctic, stressing the importance of the U.S. being part of international efforts in the area. “With the new sea routes of communication that are opening up as the sea ice retreats, I think we’re going to have to recognize this is an active area,” he stated. When asked by Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) if the Department of Defense should invest in research and innovation, he answered in the affirmative. Mattis is also expected to be confirmed by the Senate following both chambers’ approval of a waiver late last week allowing him to assume the role. The waiver was necessary because federal law dictates that military officers must wait seven years before serving as secretary of defense; Mattis retired from the military in 2013.