Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says she has a #MeToo sexual harassment story and advises women to 'let it go'

  • Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said she has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace but declined to name the perpetrator, saying the person is "still around."
  • Chao said that it isn't worth it to revisit her experience with harassment, arguing that it does women "a double injury" to focus on negative experiences.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said on Tuesday that she has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, but declined to talk about the experience or name the perpetrator, telling an audience of women at Politico's fifth annual Women Rule Summit that "the person is still here and they're still around."

Chao, a longtime Washington insider who is married to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said she "will stand up for other women" who have been mistreated, but advised women to let go of their own past experiences, warning that focusing on them "holds you back."

"I will fight for other women and I will stand up for other women, but, of your own, you gotta let it go," she said. "Because otherwise, it's too corrosive, it's too negative, and it does you a double injury because it holds you back."

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Elaine Chao testifies before a Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be transportation secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Elaine Chao (R) sits next to her father James S.C. Chao as she arrives to testifies before a Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be transportation secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. ?Vice President Mike Pence? (L), sitting next to Transportation Secretary�Elaine Chao, speaks with Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney during the first meeting of the U.S. National Space Council at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S. October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) addresses supporters while accompanied by his wife, former United States Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, at his midterm election night rally in Louisville, Kentucky, November 4, 2014. Television news networks are projecting that McConnell will win the election. REUTERS/John Sommers II (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) and his wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, greet Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, in McConnell's offices at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) shakes hands, after he ceremonially swore-in, with Vice President Joseph Biden (R) in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington January 6, 2015. Holding the Bible is McConnell's wife, former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
New Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is sworn in by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) as her father, James S.C. Chao, holds a bible during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) walks as his wife Elaine Chao waves to the crowd as they walk to their polling precinct to vote at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, November 4, 2014. McConnell is running against Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. REUTERS/John Sommers II (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his wife Elaine Chao arrive at Bellarmine University to cast their ballots during Kentucky's primary elections in Louisville, Kentucky, May 20, 2014. McConnell is running against Republican challenger Matt Bevin. REUTERS/John Sommers II (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao poses for a souvenir picture with her nephews Ben (L) and Tyler in the Brady Press briefing room of the White House in Washington, January 12, 2009 just after President George W. Bush had given his final news conference on the same stage. Chao is the only member of Bush's cabinet to have lasted his entire eight-year administration. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) and his wife Elaine Chao arrive for a State Dinner honoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House in Washington, June 7, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Secretary Elaine Chao, U.S. Department of Transportation, speaks at The 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on September 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: US President Donald Trump (R) participates in the 'Roads, Rails, and Regulatory Relief roundtable meeting', beside Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao (L) at the Department of Transportation on June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Elaine Chao, U.S. transportation secretary, speaks during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Chao defended President Donald Trump's plan to remove air-traffic operations from the government Wednesday, saying the system could no longer handle growth and still maintain safety. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Elaine Chao, Secretary of US Department of Transportation, and Gen. (Ret.) David Petraeus, Chairman, KKR Global Institute, attend The 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on September 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
Elaine Chao, U.S. secretary of transportation, listens during the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., on Monday, May 1, 2017. The conference is a unique setting that convenes individuals with the capital, power and influence to move the world forward meet face-to-face with those whose expertise and creativity are reinventing industry, philanthropy and media. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Chao said that her experience with harassment, which she said was "a dirty little secret that a lot of women have held for a long time," occurred when "the environment was very different."

"Things change, times change, and it's not worth my while to go back and revisit those negative moments," she said, urging women to have a "magnanimity of spirit" when dealing with abusive situations.

This comes as Capitol Hill is facing increasing scrutiny for its reportedly pervasive issues with sexual harassment and misconduct. On Tuesday, the longest serving member of Congress, Democratic Rep. John Conyers, announced his retirement following multiple allegations that he sexually harassed former staffers.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Al Franken has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct and reports emerged last week that Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold spent $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former communications director in 2014.

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High-profile men accused of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct
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High-profile men accused of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct

Movie producer Harvey Weinstein is accused of sexually assaulting or harassing dozens of women, including a number of well-known celebrities, over the past several decades.

(REUTERS/Gus Ruelas)

Matt Lauer was fired from 'Today' after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct that allegedly included giving a co-worker a sex toy and dropping his pants in front of a female employee in his office.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Actor Jeffrey Tambor has been accused of sexual assault by two women from the Amazon series, "Transparent."  

(REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)

Sen. Al Franken is accused of kissing a groping a woman without her consent during a United Service Organizations (USO) tour in 2006.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Eleven women have come forward accusing President Donald Trump of unwanted touching or kissing. Trump has called the sexual harassment claims 'fake news.'

(Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, (D) Nevada, was accused of making repeated, unwanted propositions for dates and sex to a woman that once worked on his campaign.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Hundreds of women accused longtime Hollywood writer and director James Toback of sexual harassment.

(TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Comedian Louis C.K. has been accused of forcing women to watch him masturbate, according to the New York Times.

(Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Director Bret Ratner has been accused of sexual harassment by several women, including actresses Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge.

(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Actor Anthony Rapp accused Kevin Spacey of making a sexual advance towards him when he was 14 years old.

(REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)

Roger Ailes, the former president of Fox News Channel, was accused of sexually harassing former anchor Gretchen Carlson and several other women from the network.

(Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Several women accused TV host Charlie Rose of sexual misconduct, including groping and lewd phone calls.

(Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Bill Cosby has faced sexual assault allegations from about 60 women, including several women who claim he drugged them.

(Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)

Mark Schwahn, the former "One Tree Hill" showrunner, was accused of sexual harassment by a large number of the show's cast and crew.

(Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)

Roy Moore faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with underaged girls.

(REUTERS/Marvin Gentry)

Bill Clinton faced numerous allegations of sexual assault and misconduct while he was president of the United States, with accusers including Juanita Broaddrick, who accused him of rape, Kathleen Willey who said he groped her and Paula Jones who said he exposed himself to her without consent.

(Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Actor Casey Affleck settled lawsuits out of court wth two women who accused him of sexual harassment.  

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Film Independent)

Bill O'Reilly has reportedly made numerous settlements with women who accused him of sexual harassment.

(Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Anthony Weiner, a former Democratic congressman was sentenced to 21 months in prison in September 2017 after pleading guilty to sexting a teenage girl.

(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Veteran journalist Mark Halperin has been accused of sexually harassing women while he worked at ABC News.

(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Singer R. Kelly is accused of holding women against their will in houses in Illinois and Georgia in a reported 'sex cult.'

(Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Former Fox Host Eric Bolling was accused of sending unsolicited lewd text messages to female colleagues.

(Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Director Roman Polanski fled the US after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Several other women have also come forward to accuse him of sexual assault.

(REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann)

Chef John Besh stepped down from the company he founded after female employees reported facing sexual harassment there. 

(Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

Photographer Terry Richardson was labeled the 'Harvey Weinstein of Fashion' by the Sunday Times amid widespread accusations of sexual harassment by models.

(Photo by Eugene Gologursky/WireImage)

Singer Kesha accused Lukasz Gottwald aka Dr. Luke of drugging and sexually assaulting her on multiple occasions.

(Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage)

Former champion boxer Mike Tyson was convicted of raping a Miss Black America contestant in 1992. 

(REUTERS/Michael Clevenger/POOL)

Former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar has been accused of sexual abuse by dozens of his former patients and athletes.

(JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

Music mogul L.A. Reid left his position as Epic Records CEO/Chairman in 2017 amid harassment claims by a female assistant.

(Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Amazon Studios chief Roy Price resigned following reports that he harassed a producer and ignored an actress' allegation of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein.

(Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage)

Several women have accused former President George H.W. Bush of groping them during photo ops.

(REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

Chris Savino (right), creator of  'The Loud House' was suspended by Nickelodeon after being accused of making unwanted advances toward multiple women.

(Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SCAD)

Actor Steven Seagal was accused of sexual misconduct by Inside Edition's chief investigative correspondent Lisa Guerrero.

(Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images,)

Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director of National Public Radio, was accused of inappropriate conduct with two women in 1990s.

(REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad)

Dustin Hoffman was accused of sexually harassing a production assistant when he was 48 and she was a high school senior.

(REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

Jeremy Piven was accused by actress Ariane Bellamar of groping her on two separate occasions. Piven 'unequivocally' denied the allegations.

(REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Ben Affleck apologized for acting 'inappropriately' towards Hilarie Burton during an appearance on MTV's "Total Request Live" in 2003.

(REUTER/Dylan Martinez

Andy Dick was accused of sexual harassment and misconduct on set, including groping people’s genitals, unwanted kissing/licking and sexual propositions.

(Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

Four women, including several that were also fellow Scientologists, have accused actor Danny Masterson of sexual assault, according to HuffPost.

 (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)

Actor Ed Westwick was accused by actress Kristina Cohen of raping her in his home.

(REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)

David Guillod, producer of 'Atomic Blonde,' is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting several woman.

(Photo by Jennifer Lourie/Getty Images)

Andrew Kreisberg, the showrunner for "Supergirl," was suspended in November 2017 amid numerous sexual harassment allegations by members of his staff.

(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Actor Tom Sizemore was reportedly told to leave a film set in 2003 after an 11-year-old actress told her mother that he had touched her genitals.

(REUTERS/Phil McCarten)

Steve Jurvetson left his own venture capital firm after allegations of sexual harassment

(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

A former model accused George Takei of sexually assaulting him 36 years ago.

(Photo by Tara Ziemba/FilmMagic)

Olympic gold medalist Hope Solo accused former FIFA president Sepp Blatter of sexually assaulted her at an award ceremony in 2013.

(REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann)

A former writer for 'Mad Men' said the show's creator Matthew Weiner told her that she owed it to him to let him see her naked.

(REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)

Ron Jeremy has been accused of sexually assaulting more than a dozen women and the allegations span more than 30 years.

(Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)

Multiple women accused producer Adam Fields of touching them inappropriately and sexually propositioning them.

(Photo by Taylor Hill/WireImage)

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has been accused of unwanted sexual advances by former staffers.

(Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

John Lasseter, the head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, was accused of crossing the line with employees, including unwanted hugs.

(Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)

Singer Nick Carter was accused of rape by a former member of the all-girl teen band Dream, Melissa Schuman.

(Photo by Ray Tamarra/GC Images)

A singer accused billionaire Richard Branson of sexual assault during an event as his Necker Island in the Caribbean. Branson says he has no recollection of the matter.

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

Talent agent Adam Venit is accused of grabbing actor Terry Crews' genitals.

(Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

Jeordie White (aka Twiggy Ramirez), Marilyn Manson former longtime bassist, was accused of rape by singer Jessicka Addams.

(Photo by Chris Weeks/WireImage for Bragman Nyman Cafarelli)

Lockhart Steele, Vox Media's editorial director was fired after a former employee accused him of sexual harassment.

(Photo by Hal Horowitz/WireImage for Haute Magazine)

Producer Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein's brother, has also been accused of sexual harassment. 

(Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company)

Jesse Lacey of  the band, Brand New, was accused of sexual misconduct, including soliciting nude photos from a teen girl in the past.

(Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Redferns)

Senior Correspondent for E! News Ken Baker California was accused of sexual harassment by two women.

(Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

American film director Oliver Stone was accused of groping model and actress Carrie Stevens in the 1990s.

(Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)

Reporter Glenn Thrush was suspended by the New York Times after several women accused him of acting inappropriately when they were young journalists.

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Veteran radio host Garrison Keillor was fired by Minnesota Public Radio following claim of improper behavior.

(Photo by Al Pereira/WireImage)

CNN producer Teddy Davis was fired after multiple accusations of harassment.

(Photo via Twitter)

Producer Russell Simmons stepped down from his companies following sexual assault and harassment accusations from two women.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Longtime conductor James Levine was suspended by New York's Metropolitan Opera after sexual abuse claims.

(Photo by Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images)

Dylan Howard, editor in chief of the National Enquirer, was accused of sexual misconduct by several former employees, including forcing them to watch porn and openly discussing his sexual partners.

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

"X-Men" director Bryan Singer was accused of raping a 17-year-old boy on a yacht in a lawsuit filed in December.

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Harold Ford, Jr.

(Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Chef Mario Batali has been accused by multiple women of "inappropriate touching in a pattern of behavior that spans at least two decades."

(Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images)

PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley's show was suspended amid misconduct allegations made against him.

(REUTERS/Fred Prouser)

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In recent weeks, several female lawmakers have spoken openly about harassment they faced from male lawmakers. Two congresswomen — Democrat Jackie Speier and Republican Barbara Comstock accused sitting male lawmakers of sexual harassment and misconduct during a House hearing on sexual harassment policy.

Dozens of lawmakers, aides, and political operatives in Washington have spoken out — both anonymously and publicly — about a pervasive culture of harassment and coercion of young women, in particular, by men in positions of power on Capitol Hill.

Top lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker Paul Ryan, have called for mandatory sexual harassment training for elected officials and staffers.

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SEE ALSO: 2 congresswomen accused sitting male lawmakers of sexual misconduct during a hearing on Capitol Hill


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