President Donald Trump has tapped State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, two people familiar with the matter said on Thursday night.
Trump chose the former Fox News anchor to replace Nikki Haley, who is leaving her post at the end of the month, according to a senior administration official and another person familiar with the choice.
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Nauert’s apparent selection came as something of a surprise, since people close to the situation had previously said Nauert had fallen out of contention for the post after emerging as an early favorite.
And only last week, John James, a potential Republican rising star who just lost his U.S. Senate bid in Michigan, was being described inside the White House as a serious contender. But in recent days, James’ chances fizzled, felled by a lack of foreign policy chops.
James, a West Point graduate and combat veteran, is scheduled to meet with Trump next week to discuss other opportunities to serve in the administration, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
Bloomberg was the first to report on Trump’s choosing Nauert. If officially nominated, she will have prevailed over a number of candidates with more foreign policy credentials. Others who have been floated for the U.N. post before falling away include the ambassador to France, Jamie McCourt; the ambassador to Germany, Ric Grenell; the ambassador to Canada, Kelly Knight Craft; NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison; and former White House deputy national security adviser Dina Powell.
Each contender has faded for various reasons. James was seen as lacking the necessary foreign policy acumen; Powell, who left the West Wing in January, decided to stay put at Goldman Sachs at her colleagues’ urging; Trump said Grenell was performing too well in his current role to be reassigned; and Craft and McCourt never fully captured the president’s attention.
Trump even suggested early on that his daughter Ivanka, who surprised the diplomatic world when she briefly sat in for her father at a G-20 summit last July, would be an “incredible” choice for the U.N. job. But the younger Trump later made it clear in a tweet that she was not under active consideration for the position.
Multiple other factors made the search for a new U.N. ambassador even more challenging, including an internal debate over whether the position should remain as a Cabinet position or be downgraded so the next ambassador reports directly to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
While some foreign policy experts say the shift could help the administration better coordinate foreign policy, it has likely made the position less desirable to big-name recruits.
Having the U.N. ambassador in the Cabinet “creates an odd configuration,” said Matthew Waxman, who held several senior national security jobs in the George W. Bush administration.
It makes the position-holder an “independent adviser on foreign policy to the president,” he added, which has advantages but can generate challenges. “We generally want our U.N. ambassador and our U.N. Embassy implementing policy that is set, coordinated or developed by the State Department.”
It’s unclear whether Nauert’s appointment would mean the position has been downgraded.
White House national security adviser John Bolton, who was himself ambassador to the U.N. during the George W. Bush administration, also asserted himself in the decision-making process, according to two Republicans close to the White House. Bolton, they said, wanted to ensure the nominee has the requisite foreign policy chops. When Bolton took the U.N. job, he was working as a top State Department official and had previously done stints at the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Justice Department.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment about Bolton’s involvement in the search process.
Haley, a former South Carolina governor whose next move remains unclear, plans to stay in New York until her 17-year-old son finishes high school. She has not said publicly whether she has a preferred candidate for the U.N. job.