Mitch McConnell pitches Kentucky’s Kelly Craft as Trump’s UN ambassador

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is recommending President Donald Trump appoint Kentucky native Kelly Craft, now the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, boosting her odds of getting named.

The Glasgow native and longtime Republican donor was confirmed as Trump’s ambassador to Canada in August 2017 with a unanimous Senate vote.

The lack of opposition, if it were to be sustained, could mean Craft could avoid a Senate fight and allow Trump to quickly seat someone for a high-profile job that has gone vacant for months.

Craft, attending a U.S.-Canada trade event in Washington, said she hasn’t talked with Trump about the possibility of serving as a top U.S. diplomat, but said she’s “committed to serving the president.”

Of McConnell, she said “He knows I am committed to serving the president in any capacity.”

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, lauded Craft’s selection as ambassador to Canada, calling her a “proven advocate for our national interests.” McConnell introduced Craft at her Senate confirmation hearing in July 2017 and she returned the favor, calling McConnell a “dear friend to our family for decades.”

Craft and her husband, coal magnate Joe Craft of Alliance Resource Partners, were already familiar with Trump. The couple donated about $265,000 to a committee backing Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and served on his inaugural committee.

Former President George W. Bush named Craft to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations in 2007 and she’s served as the Kentucky fundraising chairwoman for several presidential nominees.

McConnell’s stamp of approval could be a significant boost for Craft, who is reportedly among four people Trump is considering to succeed former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who stepped down as United Nations ambassador at the end of 2018.

The other contenders include Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partner Dina Powell, U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and John James, a former Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Michigan. Several reports this week have suggested James is a leading candidate.

Top White House aides have also discussed nominating Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump if no frontrunner emerges, Bloomberg News reported. Trump’s choice of State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew her nomination partly due to issues that arose around a nanny Nauert once employed. The nanny was a legal U.S. immigrant but wasn’t authorized to work, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Kelly Craft is a University of Kentucky alumna. Her husband, one of UK’s biggest donors to athletics, also graduated from the school. Gov. Matt Bevin in 2016 appointed her to the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees and she was expected to stay in that position during her time as ambassador to Canada, UK officials said.

Bevin reportedly spoke with Craft about joining his ticket as he runs for re-election this year and Craft was spotted at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. recently, dining with Rep. James Comer, R-Kentucky, who briefly considered a run for governor before Bevin filed his re-election papers.

Bevin and Craft crossed paths Thursday in Washington at the Canadian American Business Council event on the status of the Trump administration’s United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Bevin, a Trump ally, who is in Washington in advance of the National Governors Association winter meeting — and trip to the White House — wouldn’t say whether he planned to discuss Craft with Trump.

But he made it clear he’s a fan. “She’s an outstanding person, she’s an incredible ambassador to our largest trading partner and she would be phenomenal in any number of capacities,” Bevin said. “She’s an intelligent, gracious, thoughtful professional and that goes a long way in the world of politics.”

Lesley Clark works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, covering all things Kentucky for McClatchy’s Lexington Herald-Leader. A former reporter for McClatchy’s Miami Herald, she also spent several years covering the White House.