Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao resigned on Thursday from her post, hastily departing the Trump administration less than two weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden in a move she said was related to yesterday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol building by supporters of outgoing President Trump.
The violent assault on the building came during the ceremonial counting of electoral college votes following Biden’s commanding win at the polls in November. Although the events delayed that procedure by several hours, Congressional members soon returned to the site and completed their formal declaration of Biden’s win in the early morning hours on Thursday.
Trump has been widely blamed for inciting the mob through incendiary social media posts and remarks at a rally outside the White House earlier that day, claiming without proof that the election was flawed by voting irregularities. Those charges have been dismissed in dozens of court cases held since the election.
Congressional representatives from both parties—as well as business groups like the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the Main Street Alliance—have since called for Trump to be impeached or removed from office for his actions in encouraging the riots, and for waiting several hours to make statements that could have quelled the violence. The events have led to some 53 arrests and four deaths.
In a social media post of her own on Thursday addressed to her DOT colleagues, Chao pointed to those tumultuous events as the cause of her early departure. “Yesterday, our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the President stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed,” Chao wrote on Twitter. “As I’m sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”
Chao said she would resign her post on Monday, and pledged her help to support a transition to her nominated successor, the former South Bend, Indiana mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
Chao’s resignation was also noted in a statement today by U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “I want to thank Secretary Chao for her service to the Department of Transportation, our country, and the American people. I also want to thank her for her constant professionalism and her friendship. She has been a champion of infrastructure and transportation safety, effectively leading the Department over the last four years,” Graves said.
In further context for her departure, Chao is married to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader from Trump’s own party who in recent days has openly criticized the President for encouraging voters to question the country’s election results based on “mere allegations” instead of proven complaints. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept the election again,” McConnell told a joint session of Congress yesterday.
Chao was not alone in assigning blame to Trump for yesterday’s events. In another reaction to Trump’s public statements encouraging the riot, the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram today closed the President’s accounts for the two weeks remaining until Biden’s inauguration. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post on the site. “Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”
Editor's note: This article was revised on January 7 to add commentary from Sam Graves, Mitch McConnell, and Mark Zuckerberg.
It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve the U.S. Department of Transportation. pic.twitter.com/rFxPsBoh6t— Sec. Elaine Chao (@SecElaineChao) January 7, 2021