“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve the U.S. Department of Transportation,” she tweeted, with a statement on the resignation.
“I am tremendously proud of the many accomplishments we were able to achieve together for our country and I will never forget the commitment you have for this Department and the United States of America,” her statement continued.
She added that will help the Transportation Secretary designate, Pete Buttigieg, in taking on the department.
Chao decided to resign after taking “time to absorb” the insurrection on Capitol Hill and the President’s response to it, a senior administration official said.
“Today, there was a lot of soul-searching and discussion,” the official said. “It was obviously the right thing to do.”
The official said Chao’s decision to resign on Monday — not immediately — was done in order to give her staff time for an orderly departure and transition.
Chao discussed the matter with her staff and her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, before deciding by around 11 a.m. that she would resign.
Before releasing her statement, Chao called White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to inform him of her decision to resign, the senior official said. She has not as of yet submitted a letter of resignation to the President.
Chao also encouraged senior officials at the Transportation Department to stay on until January 20 to ensure a smooth transition. Several of her senior staff were considering resigning as well, but were “talked out of it” by Chao, this official said.
The department’s general counsel Steven Bradbury is next in the line of succession because there is currently no deputy secretary. He would become acting Transportation secretary unless the President names another individual to the post.
A veteran of Republican administrations, Chao came into her post with a focus on reviving the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
But an overhaul package to rebuild roads, bridges and highways never came, stalled by other legislative priorities including tax cuts and health care. The administration did unveil a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan earlier in Trump’s administration, but the framework has faced obstacles in Congress.
A succession of White House-sponsored “Infrastructure Weeks” did little to advance the cause. The term has become a punch line for the administration’s ability to step on its own message with unforced errors or a President prone to inflammatory tweets or remarks.
Chao had until now remained a dutiful foot soldier for the President, appearing at White House events and traveling the country to view administration-sponsored projects.
Unlike much of the administration, Chao came to her post with years of government experience. She served in both Bush administrations, acting as labor secretary for all eight years of President George W. Bush’s tenure.
Trump has eyed some Bush veterans skeptically, though isn’t known to have singled out Chao specifically.
Instead, it is her husband that has sometimes proved the awkward component in her relationship with Trump. The President has openly sparred with the Republican leader in the Senate over legislative priorities.
Chao had previously navigated the spats deftly. Standing alongside Trump in August 2017 in the midst of a dispute between the President and McConnell over health care, she was asked what she thought of the rift.
“I stand by my man,” Chao said, “both of them.”
This story has been updated.
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