President-elect Bush chose Elaine Chao, a former Peace Corps director and the wife of a Republican senator, as labor secretary yesterday, two days after his first nominee withdrew amid controversy.
Chao is the wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and had been a prospect to return to the Transportation Department, where she served as deputy in the administration of former President Bush.
That nomination went to Norman Mineta, now commerce secretary, the one Democrat in the prospective Bush Cabinet.
Chao became director of the Peace Corps in 1991, headed United Way of America from 1992 until 1996, and now is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Chao said she would work "to protect, nurture and develop America''s most precious resource," its working men and women.
Bush''s first choice for the Department of Labor post, Linda Chavez, withdrew Tuesday in the face of disclosures that she provided shelter and financial support to an illegal immigrant who performed household chores for her.
Unlike the immediate attack labor organizations brought against Chavez''s nomination, unions were quick to praise Bush''s choice of Chao.
Morton Bahr, president of the Communication Workers of America, said the union supports Chao.
"I''ve known and worked with Ms. Chao for several years, and having worked with her as vice chairman of the United Way board of governors, I can attest to her leadership skills, her integrity, and her ability to bring together diverse interests," said Bahr. "I believe she will be responsive to the needs of working families."
John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor organization, served on the board of the United Way with Chao.
Sweeney cited Chao''s experience both inside and outside government.
"The continued strength of America''s economy and the security of America''s working families, depends upon government, labor and management working together on important common issues," said Sweeney. "We will certainly support any nominee who shares this perspective."
Meanwhile, the confirmation hearings continue for Bush''s Cabinet. Chao''s hearing is not yet listed on the hearing schedule but the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a one-day hearing Jan. 17 for New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Bush''s choice to head EPA.
by Virginia Sutcliffe