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Trump’s pick for UN ambassador just withdrew her name over an immigration controversy

Heather Nauert has decided not to take the job. Now what?

Secretary Of State Pompeo Releases Annual Report On Int’l Religious Freedom
Heather Nauert in May 2018.
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Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Heather Nauert, President Donald Trump’s pick to be the country’s next ambassador to the United Nations, abruptly withdrew herself from consideration for the job over the weekend.

In a statement Saturday, Nauert, who previously served as the top spokesperson for the State Department, said that “the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration.”

Trump tapped Nauert for the role back in December, but he never officially submitted her nomination to the Senate so lawmakers could begin the process of confirming her — leading many to wonder what was taking him so long and whether her nomination had hit some sort of snag.

That seems to be exactly what happened: According to Bloomberg, shortly after Trump picked her, the White House reportedly became aware that Nauert had employed a nanny who was in the US legally, but didn’t have authorization to work.

Nauert and her husband employed the nanny 10 years ago, and paid her in cash, according to the Washington Post. They later discovered the nanny hadn’t paid taxes, and asked that she do so, per the Post.

Nauert was already facing what could have been a tough confirmation hearing given her limited foreign policy background. Nauert worked as Fox News host and correspondent for more than a decade before joining the State Department as its spokesperson in April 2017.

But this latest development about the status of her former nanny would likely have complicated things even more, particularly given Trump’s immigration policies and his recent declaration of a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border.

The State Department didn’t acknowledge the nanny controversy directly, but in a statement about Nauert’s decision, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seemed to imply that she wouldn’t be returning to her old job or back to the department in any capacity.

“Heather Nauert has performed her duties as a senior member of my team with unequalled excellence. Her personal decision today to withdraw her name from consideration to become the nominee for United States Ambassador to the United Nations is a decision for which I have great respect,” Pompeo said in a statement released Saturday.

“I wish Heather nothing but the best in all of her future endeavors and know that she will continue to be a great representative of this nation in whatever role she finds herself,” he added.

Nauert is out. Who’s next?

Nauert’s decision to withdraw herself from consideration means that Trump will have to make a new pick for UN ambassador. But the job had reportedly been a tough sell even before Trump officially announced Nauert last year, about two months after then-Ambassador Nikki Haley had announced her decision to step down.

According to the New York Times, Nauert had initially turned down the post, but the president pushed her to accept. Other contenders, including former Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, had also reportedly rejected the administration’s overtures.

A few names have floated to the top as possible candidates, including some who were considered the first time around. Richard Grenell, the current US ambassador to Germany, is one. Grenell is a right-wing firebrand and once the longest-serving US official at the UN during George W. Bush’s administration.

But Grenell has been mired in controversy in his current role over comments he made about empowering conservatives in Germany, which were seen as a direct rebuke of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. He’s apparently considered toxic in Germany, where he’s largely shunned by the diplomatic community — not a great sign for someone who will need to meet with leaders from around the globe as UN ambassador.

Another potential candidate is Kelly Craft, the current US ambassador to Canada. Craft has long been a major donor to Republican candidates; in 2016 she donated more than $260,000 to Trump’s campaign. She previously served as part of the US delegation to the UN under George W. Bush.

Craft got herself into a bit of trouble at the start of her tenure 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.

So Trump might once again have a tough time trying to find someone to take the UN ambassador post.

The role of UN ambassador is currently held by an acting official, Jonathan R. Cohen, a career diplomat who became Haley’s deputy in June 2018 after being unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

Cohen is more than qualified for the post, but he likely doesn’t have the direct line to White House that Haley had, so there’s been some concern among UN observers that he’ll largely be sidelined by the administration. And now it looks like he’ll be in the job for quite a bit longer.