Best Politician in the McConnell House? It May Not Be Mitch

Best Politician in the McConnell House? It May Not Be Mitch

by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell is a skilled politician. But he may not be his family’s best.
That honor might go to his wife, Elaine Chao.


As the sometimes-dour Mr. McConnell took command of the Senate yesterday, Ms. Chao roamed the corridors of the Capitol, happily shaking hands with veteran members, welcoming freshmen and their spouses (all of whose names she seemed to know) and parrying with reporters.

“Today is not so much about my husband becoming majority leader — today is the day that, I hope, the country will take a new direction,” she said.

Asked why her husband never sought to be president, she had an explanation at the ready: “He’s always been a creature of the Senate.”

If that sounds practiced, there is a reason: Ms. Chao has deep experience in Washington, dating to her days as a White House fellow in the Reagan administration. She has run the Peace Corps and the United Way, served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under the first President George Bush and was the second President Bush’s labor secretary — the only member of his cabinet to serve the full eight years.

Ms. Chao, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and one-time contributor to Fox News, has been out of public life since President Obama took office in 2009. But after her performance on Tuesday, it was hard not to wonder if she is interested in a new title: first lady . . . of the Senate.

by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times



When Elaine Chao was at the Peace Corps as Director, she was famous for a few things.

  • She had a little bell on her desk and when she wanted fresh cold water she would pick up her bell and ring it, summoning her secretary to fetch the glass and refill it with cold water.
  • Traveling to visit PCVs, she always arranged to have two hours or so built into her schedule each day so she could have her hair done.
  • When one of the staff came around HQ collecting for  United Way, she told them she didn’t give to the organization, but then ON THE SAME DAY, she found she was being considered for the director of the organization she went scurrying around the building to find the UW representative so that she could give money. She was, by the way, a total failure in that job as well as at the Peace Corps.
  • She was Peace Corps Director for a year, then she ETed.
  • Overseas, she would miss appointments with host country officials so she could play volleyball with PCVs.
  • She was famous for breaking down into tears when talking to RPCV groups about how the Volunteer women were living and working in the developing world. It got so bad that at some events, RPCVs would start laughing at her when she broke into tears.

In an interview I had with Ms. Chao at HQ shortly after her appointment as Director, she said she had no idea why she was appointed as she could never have been a PCV because she was from an immigrant family to the US and had to “make her way in our country.”

I kept from telling her (which I now regret) that if she looked at the roster of Peace Corps Volunteers she’d find that a sizable percentage of them are first generation Americans.

No, this is a woman who just wanted to make money and her own career; she didn’t want to volunteer for anything. Now she is married to the most feminine politician in Congress. The two of them are a perfect match. I wonder who does his hair?


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  • I wonder what the new Republican controlled Congress may mean for the future of the Peace Corps. The positive factors include the important network that Director Hessler-Radelet has built using Peace Corps service to enhance the work of multi-nationals like Kraft Food and Coca-Cola. She also has expanded the use of Peace Corps service has part of college degree programs. These organizations could be an important support for Peace Corps in Congress.

    The negative factors include the continuing Congressional concern about the safety of Peace Corps Volunteers. Representative Ted Poe (R-Texas) was the driving force behind the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, with Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-Florida). Poe had a reputation as a victim’s advocate when he was a Texas judge.

    The Inspector General of the Peace Corps has gone to Congress for support in her continuing dispute with the Peace Corps Director about investigating sexual assaults that Peace Corps Volunteers have suffered. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) put a hold on Hessler-Radelet’s confirmation, last Spring, because of this problem.

    Where does Elaine Chao fit in this mix? Will she be the “go to” person for Congress and does her concern about living conditions for Volunteers count? According to the latest PAR report, 67% of serving Volunteers are female. Will Congress decide that the world is too dangerous, right now, for Peace Corps and “suspend” funding for Peace Corps? Will Congress hold hearings on Peace Corps safety? Or, will Congress decide the money is so inconsequential and the Peace Corps so “invisible” in the public eye, that it is not worth any attention?

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