Elaine Chao, who served as secretary of transportation during the Trump Administration, has ended her silence about racist remarks directed at her by the former president, according to Politico.
For several months, Donald Trump has referred to his former Cabinet secretary as “Coco Chow” and as the “China-loving wife” of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. On his social media platform, Truth Social, Trump has suggested that McConnell is conflicted over China policy because his wife, an immigrant from Taiwan, is a daughter of James S.C. Chao, founder of the Foremost Group, a large shipping company.
Most recently, Trump has speculated that Chao is responsible for President Joe Biden taking classified documents from the White House because his office after leaving the vice presidency was located in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown.
Until now, Chao has declined to comment on Trump’s remarks, but on Jan. 25 Politico quoted her as saying: “When I was young, some people deliberately misspelled or mispronounced my name. Asian Americans have worked hard to change that experience for the next generation. He doesn’t seem to understand that, which says a whole lot more about him than it will ever say about Asian Americans.”
As transportation secretary, Chao — who was the first Asian American woman to serve in the Cabinet as labor secretary for President George W. Bush — remained silent about Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and his references to COVID-19 as the “China virus” and “kung flu,” which are believed to have been a factor in anti-Asian hate crimes committed during the pandemic.
But after the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol, Chao resigned from the Cabinet, saying that the riots “deeply troubled me in a way I simply cannot set aside.” Trump, who had previously praised Chao’s work as transportation secretary, then began to include her in his criticisms of McConnell.
Republican elected officials aligned with Trump have avoided criticizing his remarks. Regarding the “Coco Chow” reference, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida told CNN, “As you know, the president likes to give people nicknames.”
Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung defended the former president, citing Chao’s family’s potential conflicts of interest. “People should stop feigning outrage and engaging in controversies that exist only in their heads. What’s actually concerning is her family’s deeply troubling ties to Communist China, which has undermined American economic and national security.”
Condemnation of Trump’s remarks from within the GOP has mostly been in the form of anonymous quotes, or from former associates who have publicly split with him.
Lanhee Chen, the son of immigrants from Taiwan and a Stanford University professor who unsuccessfully ran as the Republican candidate for California controller last fall, told Politico, “I talked to a lot of Asian American voters in my state and the feedback I got was, ‘What you represent is great, I love the vision, but I don’t know if I can vote for someone from the same party as Donald Trump’ because of all actual — and in other cases perceived — commentary towards Asian Americans over the last several years.
“And the attacks against Elaine Chao are really puzzling given that she did really good work in his administration and accomplished a lot and benefited his own presidency.”