'The President ... Says What He Wants to Say'

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao tried to explain Donald Trump’s tweets about MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski.

Aaron Bernstein / Reuters

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Thursday President Trump was merely expressing his view as a citizen when he attacked MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski on Twitter.

“The president is a citizen as well, and he says what he wants to say,” Chao said at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “I think one of the things that’s important is that you have to take a look at his actions, and to a certain … segment [of Americans] the country was too dependent on government. It was going in a direction that they disagreed with, and so he [Trump] was able to touch a chord with a great number of people who felt that somehow this country needed to have their voices heard.”

Chao, who said she did not agree with Trump’s comments, added the president’s remarks may be unfiltered because he isn’t a politician.

“He’s not in politics, and so he’s not used to the usual restraints that people in public service have,” she said. “He’s new. He will adapt and he will learn.”

It’s a version of a defense used by Republican leaders when they are asked about Trump’s remarks on firing James Comey, the FBI director: that the president simply doesn’t know how government works.

Chao was also asked whether she let the president know that she disagreed with him on certain issues. She replied: “What’s most important is that government is going. And I think for those of us who have agreed to serve in this government, we have a certain point of view as to where it is America should go on big issues like infrastructure, like regulatory regime, the vibrancy of our economy, how to restore competitiveness, how to give opportunity to Americans ... and those are the really important issues.”

Chao’s comments illustrated the challenge that Trump’s remarks pose even to his loyal supporters. The more unguarded and unfiltered they are, the more difficult it becomes for his Cabinet and his party to address those important issues.