President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday named South Carolina’s Indian American governor Nikki Haley as the US ambassador to the United Nations, a high profile cabinet-rank position that will make her a leading face of the administration’s foreign policy.
If confirmed by the Senate, Haley, 44, will be the first Indian American to hold that position and to make it to the cabinet – the senior-most position held by anyone from the community from either the Republican or Democratic parties.
While Haley has travelled abroad eight times as two-term governor of South Carolina – including a trade mission to India in 2014 – she has no foreign policy experience, but is likely to conform to the Republican party line on most issues.
Other recent US envoys to the UN have served with the state department or the National Security Council.
Though a rising star in the Republican party, Haley was considered a surprise pick by Trump as she clashed publicly with him during the nominating contests, and criticised him as one of the “angriest voices” in the room.
And Trump, never to let an insult or criticism go unanswered, had hit back, saying, in a tweet, “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” He has surely changed his mind since, as he has on Mitt Romney and others.
Trump said in a statement: “Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country.
“She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”
Haley said, in the same announcement, “Our country faces enormous challenges here at home and internationally, and I am honored that the president-elect has asked me to join his team and serve the country we love as the next ambassador to the United Nations.”
Haley met Trump last Thursday in New York, triggering speculation she was being considered for secretary of state, along with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mitt Romney has since emerged as the favourite for the position.
While the position of US ambassador to the UN is a high-profile position in itself, it has also been a stepping stone to even higher office – current National Security Adviser Susan Rice was President Barack Obama’s first envoy to the world body.
President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state Madeline Albright, the first woman to hold that position in American history, started out in his administration as US ambassador to the UN.
Haley had backed Florida senator Marco Rubio during the primaries and her strong public endorsement of him had fuelled talk he might consider her for his vice-president pick, a possibility speculated about by other candidates. Haley did endorse Trump eventually, but late.