Elaine Chao is creating a little distance between her opinions and those of her boss—the president.
Speaking before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday, the transportation secretary said the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air-traffic controllers are "doing a good job." This wouldn't be newsworthy if the president hadn't called the FAA "horrible" earlier this week.
"Those are not my words," Chao said in response to a lawmaker’s question about President Trump’s criticism of the organization.
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On Monday, the president said of the FAA: "We're still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn't work." He suggested privatizing the industry, passing control from the federal arm to a private, nonprofit entity with its own board. Chao agreed Thursday that giving the reins to a private group of directors would increase efficiency, and avoided directly criticizing the president.
Chao has previously walked this tightrope between voicing her own opinion while not diverging openly from the White House's stance.
Speaking on Politico's podcast Women Rule back in April, Chao demurred when talking about Trump's harsh immigration rhetoric—though she herself was born in Taiwan. "We are welcoming of immigrants; we are a nation of immigrants. I don't think anyone should doubt that," she said. What's difficult is determining "how to incorporate, to welcome all these newcomers to our country and help them understand how uniquely blessed they are to be Americans."