Politics & Government

Trump picks ‘dealmaker’ Nikki Haley for UN post despite lack of foreign experience

Gov. Nikki Haley talks about her meeting with President-elect Donald Trump

Gov. Nikki Haley talks about her meeting with President-elect Donald Trump.
Up Next
Gov. Nikki Haley talks about her meeting with President-elect Donald Trump.

President-elect Donald Trump named Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina on Wednesday as his choice to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, his first nod to diversity in his growing team and his first pick of someone who once opposed him within the Republican Party.

The 44-year-old daughter of Indian Sikh immigrants, Haley is the first woman and minority to be chosen for a Cabinet-level post by Trump. Despite her lack of direct foreign-policy experience, Trump said he’d chosen her because she was “a proven dealmaker” who would be a “great leader representing us on the world stage.”

She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals.

Donald Trump on Nikki Haley

“Gov. Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward,” the president-elect said in a statement.

If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the first person to enter the role with no previous foreign-policy background. Current Ambassador Samantha Power served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, working as a special assistant to the president and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights. Her predecessor Susan Rice, like many ambassadors to the U.N. before her, spent part of her career in foreign policy.

Trump’s spokesman Jason Miller cited Haley’s handful of “trade and recruitment missions” to draw foreign companies to South Carolina when asked Wednesday by reporters about her diplomatic qualifications. Others such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also noted that Haley’s husband, Michael Haley, served in Afghanistan with the South Carolina National Guard.

“I’m confident she will be a strong voice for reform and stand for American interests throughout the world,” Graham said in a statement.

She won notable praise from Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Hillary Clinton’s running mate and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“As a former governor, I believe that Gov. Haley’s executive experience would serve her well in the challenging role of negotiating with all United Nations member states,” Kaine said in a statement.

Haley became a nationally recognized figure after her handling of the racially motivated mass shooting in a Charleston church last year, as well as her response to floods in her state a few months later. After the shooting, she convinced the state Legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Capitol.

Other Democrats were more cautious.

“Gov. Haley deserves fair, thorough scrutiny before taking on this important role,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I look forward to digging into Gov. Haley’s record, experience and qualifications.”

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison said he hopes Haley “is a quick study.”

“I must note with concern that every single previous U.N. ambassador came to the job with previous foreign-policy experience, which Gov. Haley lacks,” he said Wednesday.

Our country faces enormous challenges here at home and internationally, and I am honored that the president-elect has asked me to join his team and serve the country we love as the next ambassador to the United Nations.

Gov. Nikki Haley

The choice of Haley followed Trump’s selection of several white men to serve as his chief of staff, senior White House strategist, attorney general and national security adviser. It also came amid controversy surrounding a meeting of a white nationalist group that hailed Trump’s victory, and Trump’s comment Tuesday that he disavows such groups.

Soon after the Haley nomination was announced, Trump followed with that of a second woman, school-choice activist and billionaire Betsy DeVos, to lead the Education Department. He also was expected to name Dr. Ben Carson, his presidential primary rival, to a top Cabinet position soon.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said Haley’s appointment showed Trump’s “commitment to build a team that is deep in talent and rich in diversity.”

Another first: Haley’s appointment marks a turning point in Trump’s transition, which up to now has mainly focused on rewarding the loyalty of early supporters of his White House bid.

The South Carolinian had been critical of Trump during the presidential campaign, using her high-profile position delivering the Republican State of the Union response in January to urge her party to resist “the siren call of the angriest voices.”

Haley also had denounced Trump’s call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S., saying in the nationally televised address, “No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”

Trump hit back, tweeting, “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!”

The governor had endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., ahead of South Carolina’s Republican primary last February, but Rubio lost to Trump. Haley later supported Trump as the Republican nominee.

“This election has turned my stomach upside down,” she said last month. “It has been embarrassing for both parties. It’s not something that the country deserves, but it’s what we’ve got.”

After Trump’s surprise victory, she softened her tone about the businessman.

Trump is “talking about inclusion. . . . So far he’s done well,” Haley told reporters last week at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Orlando, Florida. She said she hoped Trump “continues to be disciplined in his comments.”

Haley, who traveled to New York for a face-to-face meeting with the president-elect last week, was initially said to be under consideration for secretary of state. On Wednesday, she said her sense of duty had moved her to accept the ambassadorship, even though she had expected to finish her two remaining years as governor,

“Not doing so is difficult because I love serving South Carolina more than anything,” she said in a statement, adding that Trump’s election has “brought exciting changes to America.”

Haley was a “pretty easy pick” for Trump, his spokesman Miller told reporters in a call Wednesday.

“There was a natural chemistry between the two when they met and talked about their vision of how they wanted the U.S. represented on the world stage,” he said.

South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore said her appointment “shows how far our state has come and how far our nation can go in the 21st century.”

Born in Bamberg, South Carolina, Haley graduated from Clemson University with a bachelor of science degree in accounting. She served in the state Legislature before becoming governor.

Once her nomination is confirmed, Haley would be replaced by the state’s Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, who was an early and vocal Trump supporter.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

Job description: Ambassador to the United Nations

Duties: Represents the United States in the United Nations and on its 15-member Security Council.

Qualifications: Most ambassadors to the United Nations have served in diplomatic posts, speak several languages and have spent part of their career outside their home countries.

Process: The ambassador is nominated by the president, and has to be approved by the Senate.

Residence:The ambassador has the option of living in a suite of rooms on the 42nd floor of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel leased by the State Department.

Salary: $179,700.

Related stories from McClatchy DC