Trump Blunts Critics With Nikki Haley Appointment
Donald Trump named South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday, marking a willingness to venture beyond a small group of loyalists when it comes to selecting senior officials in his administration.
Haley, the 44-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants and the first woman to serve as governor of her state, was an outspoken critic of the now-president-elect during the Republican primary, endorsing rival Marco Rubio before South Carolina’s contest, which Trump won, and then endorsing Sen. Ted Cruz when Rubio left the race.
Her appointment somewhat blunts criticism that Trump has so far appointed only older, white men to Cabinet-level jobs. It’s also a sign that the incoming president is considering his critics for top positions in his administration. His first round of appointments went to loyalists.
In another announcement Wednesday, Trump tapped school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education. DeVos, a Michigan native, is chairman of the American Federation for Children, which describes its mission as improving K-12 education by “empowering parents, particularly those in low-income families, to choose the education they determine is best for their children.”
In a statement, Trump promised that under DeVos’ leadership, “we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back.”
As for Haley, he cited her “proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in a statement released Wednesday. “She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”
Trump has conducted the business of building out his administration with a bit of flair and uncertainty, bringing in a wide range of individuals to his properties in New York and New Jersey for meetings and interviews. Haley met with the president-elect at Trump Tower last week, and her name had been floated for various positions.
Colleagues praised the choice and quickly combated questions about Haley’s qualifications for the international stage, an issue likely to come up during her Senate confirmation hearing.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller said Haley has done “a fantastic job” with the state of South Carolina and helping to improve its economy. He pointed out she has made a number of overseas trade and business deals while governor.
Miller noted there was "natural chemistry with the two when they met, in how they wanted the United States represented on the international stage."
"It was a pretty easy pick, as he greatly respects and admires her,” he said.
Haley’s diplomatic experience is limited but the two-term governor’s background is something Trump can relate to: business. She worked at a waste management and recycling company early in her career before joining her mother's business, Exotica International, an upscale clothing firm. She also served in the South Carolina statehouse before winning the governor’s mansion.
Her colleagues also cited her experience in negotiating with international companies to do work in her home state as a qualification for the U.N. job. Haley’s husband, Michael, is a captain in the Army National Guard and served in Afghanistan.
“Governor Haley is a strong supporter of the State of Israel. Her presence as ambassador will be reassuring to all those who are concerned about the increasing hostility of the United Nations toward Israel,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Foreign Operations Subcommittee on Appropriations. “I look forward to working with Governor Haley on overdue reforms of the United Nations.”
Haley has been considered a rising star in the GOP, and her endorsement in South Carolina was coveted by Republicans in the presidential primary. In endorsing Rubio, she traveled around the state promoting a new and diverse generation of party leadership.
She did not abandon her critiques of the direction her party was headed under the leadership of Trump, however. In a speech to the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention last week, Haley said Trump’s election “was not an affirmation of the way Republicans have conducted themselves.” She urged her party to reach beyond its core base “to all citizens, regardless of their race, gender or where they are born and raised.”
While Haley hasn’t run or served in federal office, she has become a figure on the national stage. After the horrific murders of nine black congregants at the historic Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston last year, Haley called for the Confederate flag to be removed from her statehouse grounds.
The following January, the mother of two was tapped by Republican leaders to give the party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, and she used the platform to criticize Trump’s rhetoric and tone – though without naming him.
"During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation," she said. "No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”
Haley also dinged Trump over his proposed Muslim ban, and called for immigration reform that includes "welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries."
In a “Today” show interview the following morning, Haley said Trump had contributed to “what I think is just irresponsible talk.”
She earned bipartisan applause for her speech, but Trump and his supporters were not impressed. Ann Coulter tweeted: “Trump should deport Nikki Haley.” In an interview with “Fox and Friends,” the then-presidential candidate said Haley was “weak on illegal immigration” and had solicited campaign donations from him. "I feel very strongly about illegal immigration. She doesn't,” he said.
Haley declined to speak at the GOP convention in July, though she did attend the gathering in Cleveland. Her relationship with Trump later thawed. The governor said she would vote for him, even though the election “really turned my stomach upside down.”
On Wednesday, Haley pointed to the “enormous challenges here at home and internationally” in accepting Trump’s offer.
“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,” she said in a statement.
She said she would not resign as governor until confirmed by the Senate. If that happens, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster would succeed her. He was the first statewide politician to back Trump’s presidential bid.