Details You Didn't Know About Mitch McConnell And Elaine Chao's Marriage

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Mitch McConnell was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984, per CNN, and has served as the Senate Majority Leader since 2015. In that time, quite a bit has changed for McConnell both professionally and personally. Four years before McConnell was elected to represent Kentucky in the U.S. Senate, he and his first wife, Sherrill Redmon — who is the mother of his three children — got divorced after more than a decade together, per the Daily Mail.

It wasn't until nearly a decade later that McConnell remarried, this time to Elaine Chao. Born in Taiwan, Chao moved to the United States when she was eight and became a naturalized citizen at 19, per the U.S. Department of Transportation's website. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School and worked in the financial world before joining the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Reagan Administration. As of this writing, Chao serves as United States Secretary of Transportation. 

McConnell and Chao were first introduced by a mutual friend and seemingly hit it off right away. The two tied the knot in 1993, and have since become one of the most powerful couples in the United States — though not without a fair share of criticism. Here's the full story.

Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao said 'I do' on Ronald Reagan's birthday

Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao have a mutual friend — and their assistants — to thank for their union. "It literally was a blind date, 'cause I had never seen her before," McConnell recalled to CBS News in 2016. Chao concurred, remembering, "I just got this call, I think, out of the blue from Mitch's assistant. I think my assistant answered back to his assistant. And that's how the first date was set up."

The couple said "I do" in a small, private ceremony on Feb. 6, 1993, a date that was special for a few reasons. Not only was it Ronald Reagan's birthday, but it was also shortly before a Senate recess, according to The Washington Post. The date was also chosen because Chao "insisted on getting married before she turned 40," per The Washington Post, a deadline approaching in March of that year. 

In November 2014, more than two decades after they wed, Time magazine referred to Chao as McConnell's "secret weapon" on the campaign trail. According to the outlet, McConnell suffered from polio as a child, leaving him "tender and averse to backslapping." Apparently, Chao has filled in his weak spot, earning the nickname of the "campaign hugger."

Have Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao benefited from working together?

While Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao epitomized a political power couple in the 1990s, especially on the Republican side, they have seemingly received more criticism as they've amassed more power. In 2019, while Chao was serving as Secretary of Transportation and McConnell was serving as Senate Majority Leader, Politico reported that Chao used her position to benefit McConnell's state of Kentucky, specifically.

Todd Iman, Chao's aide, reportedly "helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for McConnell," per the outlet. In "an email to McConnell's Senate office," Iman allegedly stated that he did this after being "personally asked" by Chao. According to Politico, Kentucky received "grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects." 

The fact that the grant money came through as McConnell was preparing for reelection wasn't lost on critics. "Where a Cabinet secretary is doing things that are going to help her husband get reelected, that starts to rise to the level of feeling more like corruption to the average American," Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak told Politico.

Elaine Chao and Mitch McConnell are worth a pretty penny

Elaine Chao and Mitch McConnell's wealth has reportedly increased quite a bit over the course of their marriage, causing some to speculate about how they made their millions. While it is difficult to know the exact wealth of the political couple, it is estimated that their wealth increased roughly sevenfold in a decade.

According to The Washington Post, McConnell's net worth was estimated to be $22.8 million in 2014, compared to about $3.1 million in 2004 and $7.8 million in 2007. While McConnell and Chao report that their boost in assets came from an inheritance from Chao's family, there have been allegations of bad behavior.

In his 2018 book Secret Empires: How The American Political Class Hides Corruption And Enriches Family And Friendauthor Peter Schweizer alleged that McConnell and Chao made their money "thanks to the couple's fealty to China" (via the New York Post). Upon moving to the United States, Chao's father founded a shipping company with "close ties to the Chinese government." In his book, Schweizer claims that since they tied the knot, McConnell and Chao have "gone considerably soft" on China.

While there's no concrete evidence that McConnell and Chao benefit from Chinese ties, The Washington Post did confirm that the the couple earned a pretty penny from Chao's inheritance.