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Trump nominates Kelly Craft as United Nations ambassador

Craft is currently serving as US ambassador to Canada.

Vice President Mike Pence turns to speak to Kelly Knight Craft during her swearing-in ceremony to be U.S. Ambassador to Canada, in September 2017.
Vice President Mike Pence turns to speak to Kelly Knight Craft, during her swearing-in ceremony to be U.S. Ambassador to Canada, in September 2017.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

President Donald Trump has selected a new nominee for United Nations ambassador, a week after his original pick, Heather Nauert, withdrew her name from consideration.

Trump announced on Twitter Friday night that he planned to nominate Kelly Craft, who’s served as the US ambassador to Canada since September 2017.

“Kelly has done an outstanding job representing our Nation and I have no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level,” Trump tweeted. “Congratulations to Kelly and her entire family!”

Craft had been among the candidates reportedly in the running after Nauert, who had previously served as the State Department’s top spokesperson, decided to withdraw her name from consideration last Saturday, citing family concerns in a statement.

But other reports suggested that Nauert’s vetting had been derailed by a revelation that she had employed a nanny who was in the US legally but didn’t have proper work authorization. That, combined with serious concerns over Nauert’s lack of diplomatic and foreign policy experience, apparently made the nomination untenable. (Trump had never formally submitted Nauert’s name to the Senate, anyway.)

Trump didn’t acknowledge the Nauert snafu in his announcement about Craft and instead simply praised Craft’s tenure as US ambassador to Canada.

If confirmed, Craft will replace Nikki Haley, who left the post at the end of 2018 after nearly two years on the job. Haley, during her tenure, managed to strike a balance between Trump’s “America First” worldview and a more traditional Republican foreign policy. (Jonathan Cohen, a career diplomat who became Haley’s deputy in June 2018, is currently serving as the acting UN ambassador.)

Haley had also demanded that the US ambassador to the UN role remain a Cabinet-level position while she was in the position, but there’s no guarantee that it would remain so if Craft takes over, potentially diminishing her influence with the administration.

Craft is a major Republican donor who became US ambassador to Canada

Craft was unanimously confirmed by voice vote as US Ambassador to Canada in August 2017, but her nomination to UN ambassador will probably be a bit more contentious.

Here’s what she has going for her: In addition to that prior Senate endorsement, Craft, who hails from Kentucky and whose husband is a major coal magnate, has a key ally in her corner. She was reportedly recommended by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), which would seem to bode well for her chances of getting her nomination approved.

But she also likely got her posting as US ambassador because she’s a major donor, both to GOP causes and to the president himself. Craft has long been a major donor to Republican candidates; in 2016 she donated more than $260,000 to Trump’s campaign. She and her husband Joe Craft were Kentucky state finance chairs for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.

It’s not uncommon for presidents to appoint donors and other supporters to cushy ambassadorship gigs. But the high-profile UN ambassadorship tends to be a job for experienced statesmen or those with deep foreign policy or diplomatic credentials.

Craft did serve as part of the US delegation to the UN under George W. Bush in 2007. And she has gained experience during her tenure as ambassador to Canada, where she did play a role in helping to renegotiate NAFTA, now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

Craft got herself into a bit of trouble at the start of her time in Canada over comments she made about climate change, in which she said there were “good scientists on both sides” of the climate debate during an interview with a Canadian news outlet in 2017. That stance is sure to worry Democrats and will likely be a topic at her confirmation hearing — especially since combating climate change is among the UN’s major goals.

Like just about any person Trump would nominate for the UN ambassador gig, Craft will face the challenging of working and advocating for an administration that tends to be skeptical of multilateral institutions, the UN included.

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