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Trump nominates Heather Nauert to be next UN ambassador

The State Department spokesperson and Fox News anchor will replace Nikki Haley.

Spokesperson Heather Nauert Holds State Department Press Briefing
Trump’s nominee to be the next UN ambassador, Heather Nauert, speaks in the press briefing room at the Department of State on November 30, 2017 in her current function as department’s spokesperson.
Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert may become the next US ambassador to the United Nations.

President Donald Trump confirmed Friday that he is nominating Nauert for the job.

Nauert, a former Fox News host, joined the State Department as its top spokesperson in April 2017. She’s largely been an effective messenger for the agency, and her clout in Washington has grown, particularly since the exit of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

From March until October of this year, Nauert also served as the acting under-secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, a high-ranking post at the State Department.

The news comes after UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced in October that she planned to step down by the end of the year. During her two years in office, Haley toggled between Trump’s “America First” approach and a more traditional Republican approach to foreign policy.

She emerged from the role mostly unscathed, and raised her national profile in the process.

As Haley’s likely successor, Nauert would inherit the tricky role of advocating for Trump’s worldview while working in a multilateral organization. Her success would likely depend on how well she deals with foreign policy heavyweights in the Trump administration, specifically National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — and how she handles the ever-unfolding crises around the globe, from North Korea to Syria.

Who is Heather Nauert?

Nauert joined the State Department after working for 15 years as a correspondent and on-air-host. She was at Fox News for much of that time, and even worked on Trump’s favorite program, Fox & Friends.

Nauert had the backing of the White House when she arrived at State, but she reportedly failed to win over then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Her tenure as spokesperson got off to a somewhat rocky start: There was an early press conference where she had to rely on a huge binder to answer questions, and a tweet in October 2017 in which she seemed to forget that North Korea had nuclear capabilities.

Nauert has since settled in. And though journalists have griped that the State Department doesn’t give press briefings as frequently as it did under past administrations, Nauert’s interactions with reporters are far less confrontational than the press shop at the White House. Nauert, in fact, had often been named as a possible future White House press secretary to take over for Sarah Sanders, if and when she departed the administration.

Nauert’s status within the administration was elevated in March when Trump shook up the leadership at the agency and replaced Rex Tillerson with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo for secretary of state. Politico reported in August that Pompeo trusted Nauert, and had included her as a key member of his team.

Nauert also quietly served as the No. 4 official at the State Department when she took over as acting under-secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs in March. (Her tenure expired in mid-October.) During that time, she continued her day-to-day job as spokesperson.

Now Nauert may soon be serving as America’s top diplomat at the United Nations. Nauert spent almost two years as the public face of the State Department, crafting the message on global challenges from North Korea to Iran, but now she’s tasked with shaping foreign policy.

Her lack of deep foreign policy credentials is a source of concern, though Haley, her predecessor, also came to the job with scant international experience.

“She has no qualifications for such a post,” a person familiar with discussions told Vox.

Nauert would be handling the world’s crises at the UN. And handling Trump.

Haley’s tenure as UN ambassador was something of a paradox. She stood up to Russia, especially on its role in the ongoing conflict in Syria, and advocated for human rights, even as she helped Trump wage war with the UN. Haley defended the US’s withdrawal from organizations like the UN Human Rights Council and threatened to “take names” of those UN members who objected to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Whether Nauert would try to follow Haley’s example or take a different path is still unclear. Haley had also demanded that the US ambassador to the UN role be a Cabinet-level position, but there’s no guarantee that it would remain so when and if Nauert takes over.

Nauert may be moving to New York to join the UN team, but she won’t be far removed from the Washington infighting in the Trump administration, because the presence of National Security Adviser and former UN Ambassador John Bolton still looms large. Bolton’s hawkishness, especially on Iran (and now, apparently Latin America), will extend to the UN. It’s an open question whether Nauert would be able to push back and stake out her own policies, or spend her tenure being railroaded by Trump’s national security team.

“Anyone who’s coming up to New York should assume they’re fighting a lot of trench warfare,” Richard Gowan, a senior fellow at the United Nations University, told me earlier this month, speaking about the foreign policy conflicts within the administration.

Another big question is how effective Nauert would be at managing Trump’s expectations of the United Nations, particularly when it comes to his General Assembly appearances each year. The president may not love what the UN represents — in fact, he’s often railed against the international body — but he seems to appreciate the spectacle of it all, and that keeps him involved. Haley largely succeeded at this. It remains to be seen if Nauert can do the same.

Alex Ward contributed reporting to this article.

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