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McConnell says he won’t recuse himself from wife’s cabinet confirmation

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, joined by his wife Elaine Chao as he speaks to media at Donamire Farm in Lexington on Oct. 2, 2014. (AP/Timothy D. Easley)

President-elect Donald Trump isn’t the only one getting questions about mixing family affairs with work.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose wife Elaine Chao is Trump’s pick for transportation secretary, was asked if he plans to recuse himself from her Senate confirmation process.

McConnell’s answer? In a word: no.

“I’ve heard rumors that it should be an outstanding appointment,” McConnell said to laughs at a Senate news conference Tuesday. “Someone actually asked [spokesman Don Stewart] if I was going to recuse myself. Let me be quite clear: I will not be recusing myself.”

Well, there you go.

Elaine Chao was confirmed as transportation secretary, Jan. 31. Here's what you should know about her. (Video: Sarah Parnass, Osman Malik, Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

Chao, President George W. Bush’s labor secretary and the first Asian American female Cabinet member in U.S. history, stands to gain significant influence as transportation secretary if Trump manages to get congressional approval for a massive infrastructure-rebuilding effort.

Here’s more background from colleagues Jerry Markon, Philip Rucker and Amy Goldstein:

In naming Chao, who has also served as deputy transportation secretary and has been married to McConnell since 1993, Trump turned to a consummate Washington insider after campaigning on a vow to bring change to Washington.

Since leaving the Bush administration, Chao has served as a fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a contributor to Fox News. She is also a former chief executive of the United Way of America, director of the Peace Corps and banker with Citicorp in New York.

As for McConnell, he said he’s gearing up for a quick round of Trump cabinet approvals on Inauguration Day.

“We hope on Jan. 20 to be able to vote on and confirm a number of the president’s selection for the cabinet so he can get started,” McConnell told reporters.

As a side note, McConnell did not vote on Chao’s nomination for labor secretary under President George W. Bush, though he was a senator at the time. That’s because Chao was approved by unanimous consent on the Senate floor on Jan. 29, 2001. There was no roll call vote.

This doesn’t mean he was on the sidelines, however: McConnell, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and then-Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) introduced Chao at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where she was “warmly welcomed,” according to the Associated Press.