South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was confirmed Tuesday to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, placing a rising Republican political star in charge of advancing President Trump’s agenda in an institution whose effectiveness he has questioned.
She will step down from her post in South Carolina to take one of the country’s highest profile diplomatic jobs and one that would burnish her résumé for higher office later.
Haley, who has no formal diplomatic experience, won significant Democratic support. The vote of 96 to 4 reflected some Democrats’ view that Haley would be a sensible diplomat and speak her mind in the new administration.
The four senators who voted no were Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had approved her nomination by voice vote earlier Tuesday.
She won praise from Democrats during her confirmation hearing last week, where she freely aired disagreements with Trump on some policy matters and said that the new president would welcome a range of views.
Haley, who had been critical of Trump as a candidate, voiced heavy skepticism about Russia and optimism about NATO, both deviations from some of Trump’s statements. She unequivocally rejected the idea of a Muslim registry or ban, which Trump has never fully disavowed.
She said she is comfortable with Trump’s “American first” approach and would reassert the traditional role of the United States in recent decades of protecting Israel from United Nations action it considers biased.
She also declared her support for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a shift that Arab leaders have previously said could ignite violence in the Middle East.
At her Jan. 18 hearing, Haley questioned the priorities and effectiveness of the world body, which Trump has called a toothless debating society, but said she intends to “fix” what doesn’t work.
“I have no problem calling people out,” Haley said.
The United Nations is “often at odds with American national interests and American taxpayers,” Haley said, adding that she would use the “leverage” of potential cuts in U.S. funding to demand reform.
“We contribute 22 percent of the U.N.’s budget, far more than any other country. We are a generous nation,” Haley said. “But we must ask ourselves what good is being accomplished by this disproportionate contribution. Are we getting what we pay for?”
Haley is best known nationally for her handling of the 2015 racially motivated killings of black worshipers at a historic Charleston church, for which she got generally high marks. She spoke at memorials and encouraged the removal of the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds.
|In making her pitch to senators, Nikki Haley avoided the stumbles that had plagued Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO whom Trump has nominated as secretary of state. | Getty|
Nikki Haley is headed from the South Carolina statehouse to the world stage.
The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the Republican governor's nomination as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as Democrats put up little of the resistance they have to some of President Donald Trump’s other Cabinet picks.
Haley was approved on a 96-4 vote. The daughter of Indian immigrants will be one of the few women and minorities in Trump’s Cabinet, and some on the left hope she will be a moderating force in the new administration.
Haley impressed lawmakers from both parties by taking a tough stance toward Russia, praising international alliances such as NATO, and calling out human rights violations in countries such as the Philippines. Some of these stances, however, put her at odds with the new Republican president, and it remains unclear how she will square her positions with what Trump will demand she do while at the United Nations.
Haley has little foreign policy experience, but she argued during her confirmation hearing earlier this month that her executive experience as South Carolina's governor gave her deal-making and coalition-building skills that will come in handy in dealing with the more than 190 member states at the United Nations. She also stressed that she will ensure that U.N. priorities are aligned with U.S. priorities, including by defending Israel when it is singled out for condemnation.
In making her pitch to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which approved her nomination on a voice vote earlier Tuesday, Haley avoided the stumbles that had plagued Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO whom Trump has nominated as secretary of state.
Tillerson took a softer line on Russia than many senators were comfortable with, and he appeared lukewarm on pushing for human rights. Unlike Haley, Tillerson would not say he believed that Russia was committing war crimes in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Tillerson squeaked by the Foreign Relations committee on a party line 11-10 vote on Monday, but it's not yet clear when the full Senate will take up his nomination.
In announcing that he would vote against Tillerson, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat, negatively compared Tillerson’s performance to Haley’s.
On Tuesday, Cardin praised Haley on a number of fronts, including her insistence that she did not support a "slash and burn" approach to cutting U.S. funding to the United Nations over its perceived mistakes. He and others also expressed admiration for how Haley handled the tragic 2015 mass shooting deaths of nine African Americans at a Charleston church and the decision afterward to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds.
"I was extremely impressed about her competency as governor of South Carolina," Cardin said as the full Senate prepared to vote.
Nikki Haley says U.S. can't trust Russia, must be cautious
Only a handful of Democrats opposed Haley's nomination.
Among them was Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who said he was concerned about Haley's lack of experience. "The position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations requires a high level of expertise on international affairs, not someone who will be learning on the job," the senator said in a statement.
Nikki Haley easily confirmed as UN ambassador
The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations, making her the fourth member of President Donald Trump's Cabinet to be approved even as Republicans and Democrats battle angrily over the pace of confirmations.
Haley, the governor of South Carolina and a rising GOP star, was approved with wide bipartisan support, 96-4.
Republicans are upset at what they complain is a deliberate effort by Democrats to slow walk approval of Trump's top government executives and argue the GOP was much more cooperative when President Barack Obama got seven Cabinet members confirmed on the day he was sworn in back in 2009.
Haley, Republicans say, is an example of a largely non-controversial nominee who should have been approved faster.
"Our Democratic friends need to get over the fact that the election is over and now we have the responsibility of governing -- hopefully, together. But instead so far they've just chosen to obstruct and foot-drag, and to me one of the most shameful and reckless parts of this is the way in which they delayed the confirmation of an important member of President Trump's National Security Cabinet," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican leader.
But Democrats defended what they said was a necessary pace. They charged that Trump selected several people with complicated financial portfolios that needed to be cleared by a government ethics watchdog to ensure they would not have conflicts of interest while in office and others with alleged ethical lapses related to stock trade and unpaid nanny taxes.
"There are a bunch of nominees that have real problems," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. "Isn't it the obligation of both Democrats and Republicans to vet these candidates thoroughly? They are going to have huge power over the lives of every American."
Two embattled nominees, Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price and Republican South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney faced contentious confirmation hearings Tuesday and four other nominees were voted out of committee. One was Haley who won approval of the Foreign Relations Committee on a voice vote, although two Democrats recorded "no" votes against her.
"The position of US ambassador to the United Nations requires a high level of expertise on international affairs, not someone who will be learning on the job," said Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, explaining his vote against her.
The Senate Commerce Committee easily cleared businessman Wilbur Ross to be secretary of commerce and Elaine Chao to be secretary of transportation. The Senate Banking Committee cleared Dr. Ben Carson to be secretary of housing and urban development.
Votes on two other nominees were abruptly canceled without explanation late Monday night.
Aides in both parties were tight-lipped for hours about why Energy Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and ranking Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington called off the committee votes for energy secretary nominee Rick Perry and interior secretary Ryan Zinke.
An aide to Murkowski finally issued a statement that there had been a "miscommunication" between the two senators and that votes would be rescheduled soon.
But floor votes on the nominees who cleared committee will have to wait until at least next week. That's because the Senate is leaving town tomorrow as Republicans and Democrats head to their legislative retreats in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, respectively.
GOP leaders said before they leave they will trigger procedural steps that will allow them to clear secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson early next week and other Cabinet nominees soon after. While Democrats have successfully stalled some of these nominations, they don't have the votes to block them.