McConnell brushes off question about special treatment from Chao
© Greg Nash
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Senate to vote Thursday to block Trump's Saudi arms deal MORE (R-Ky.) dismissed a question on Tuesday about whether he received preferential treatment by the Transportation Department, which is overseen by his wife Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoOn The Money: Democrats move funding bills as budget caps deal remains elusive | Companies line up to weigh in on 0B China tariffs | Trudeau to talk trade with Pelosi, McConnell On The Money: Democrats move funding bills as budget caps deal remains elusive | Companies line up to weigh in on 0B China tariffs | Trudeau to talk trade with Pelosi, McConnell Progressive group requests Transportation Department look into Chao's potential conflicts of interest MORE.  
 
McConnell, asked if he got "any special treatment or consideration" when his office applied for department grants, quipped that he had been “complaining” to Chao about why more projects in Kentucky didn’t get federal money. 
 
“You know, I was complaining to her just last night, 169 projects and Kentucky got only five. I hope we'll do a lot better next year,” McConnell told reporters.
 
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Politico reported Tuesday that Chao had designated a special liaison for grant applications from Kentucky, including helping advise McConnell's office and state officials. 
 
The liaison, Todd Inman, reportedly stated in an email to McConnell's office that Chao had personally asked him to serve as an intermediary who could assist the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance to McConnell.
 
He and Chao also reportedly met annually with local officials from Owensboro, Ky., and discussed two projects of special importance: a plan to upgrade road connections to a commercial river port and a proposal to expedite reclassifying a local parkway as an interstate spur.
 
A Transportation Department spokesman told the publication that "no state receives special treatment," and noted that Kentucky is 26 in population and ranks 25th in receiving money from the department under the Trump administration. 
  
McConnell's office told The Hill on Monday that the senator "regularly advocates for Kentuckians with Members of the Cabinet and agencies of the federal government."
 
"Senator McConnell recognizes that Kentucky has significant infrastructure projects that need to be replaced, repaired or upgraded," a spokesperson said.
 
"And that is why he has worked closely with the Department of Transportation, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other federal agencies to connect them with Kentuckians to hear first-hand about the importance of these projects," the spokesperson continued. 
 
This week's report comes after The New York Times reported earlier this month that Chao asked federal officials to organize travel arrangements for at least one family member and include other relatives in high-level meetings with Chinese government officials timed around her first scheduled visit to China as a Trump Cabinet member.
 
The Transportation Department at the time called the report a "deep misunderstanding of the work of the Department of Transportation."