Almost two months after President Donald Trump said he would quickly name a replacement for Nikki Haley, he is still struggling to pick his next ambassador to the United Nations.
At first, former deputy national security adviser to the President Dina Powell was under consideration, then took herself out of contention. Then a long list of candidates were floated including Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ambassador to NATO; Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen organization; Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany; and John James, who recently lost a Michigan Senate race to Democrat Debbie Stabenow.
But in late October Trump seemed to have found his favorite and told aides he wanted State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, a former Fox News host. Trump went public and said Nauert was “excellent,” noting she’s “been a supporter for a long time. And she’s really excellent.”
But after CNN and multiple other outlets reported that Trump was telling others Nauert was his top choice, her critics launched an intense lobbying effort to squash Nauert’s candidacy. A source with knowledge of the process, said top advisers pushed back and asked the President to delay an announcement and consider other candidates because they were concerned that Nauert did not have enough foreign policy experience. They argued that her precipitous rise since arriving at the State Department in 2017 would set the stage for a tough Senate confirmation hearing, where Democrats would likely grill Nauert on her qualifications.
For the last month, advisers have floated other candidates, but so far none of them seem to have impressed Trump and several officials say he has remained high on Nauert. They say her lack of experience matters less to the President, an avid fan of Fox News, than her loyalty to the White House. The fact that she’s a woman and could be a polished proxy on television appeals to Trump, according to sources familiar with his thinking.
Sources say Nauert also has strong backing from the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
If Trump goes ahead and taps Nauert for the job, the nomination would cap a precipitous rise in diplomacy in less than two years.
Early in her career, Nauert worked as a health insurance consultant, according to the State Department, which says she studied at Mount Vernon Seminary and College, a private women’s college in Washington DC, and Columbia University’s journalism school.
Nauert then spent more than 20 years in journalism, largely at Fox News, where she led breaking news coverage for “Fox & Friends,” with a brief stint as a general assignment reporter at ABC. She left Fox to join the Trump administration.
Despite Nauert’s TV savvy, current and former colleagues wonder if she will be prepared or equipped to navigate the gritty behind the scenes work of UN negotiations.
The Illinois native would follow in the footsteps of Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, Samantha Power, a Pulitzer prize winner, Susan Rice, a Rhodes Scholar, and former national security experts such as Madeleine Albright, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and George H.W. Bush.
The new ambassador will take the position amid a roster of thorny global challenges, ranging from North Korea’s nuclear program to Yemen’s famine and the growing divide between the US and its closest allies over the Iran nuclear deal, climate change and other issues.
Haley triggered a US retrenchment from the world body, with Washington pulling out of different agencies and cutting or reducing funding for others.
It remains to be decided whether the role remains a cabinet level post or is downgraded.