US president Donald Trump will pick state department spokesperson and a former journalist Heather Nauert as the ambassador to the United Nations to succeed Nikki Haley.
Haley is set to leave the coveted cabinet-rank position seen as the face of American diplomacy at the global body later this month.
In another development on the personnel front, William Barr, who headed the justice department under late president George HW Bush, has emerged as the top contender to follow Jeff Sessions as attorney general, to head a department that oversees special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
Neither appointment had been announced by the White House till late Thursday, but Nauert’s was being reported by the US media as confirmed by senior administration officials. Her nomination would require a confirmation by the senate.
Nauert joined the Trump administration in April 2017 as the state department spokesperson, a position that thrust her into international limelight explaining, defending and clarifying the new dispensation, and all the early mistakes of the outsiders in charge — Trump and his first secretary of state Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson was fired and replaced by Mike Pompeo, a Republican lawmaker named by Trump earlier to head the CIA, and so were some top officials. Nauert soon came to head the public diplomacy department as acting undersecretary.
Nauert’s appointment to the top US job at the United Nations was hailed as another nod and expression of fealty by Trump to his favourite and most supportive TV news network Fox News, where she had worked and grown in two separate stints separated by one at ABC News. And not much more.
Critics pointed to her lack of experience dealing with issues at that level and of that magnitude. And to her allies who brought up her predecessor’s similar lack of experience, they contended Haley was groomed for the job by her experience as a politician who worked her way up to the governorship of South Carolina.
Haley, in fact, is a rising star in the Republican party and has continued to be speculated about as a challenger to Trump in 2020 despite repeated denials from her. There are reports that Trump could pick her to replace vice-president Mike Pence as the running mate for his re-election bid.
As two-time governor of South Carolina, a deeply Republican state that is continuing to struggle with its racist history, Haley is casting herself as the future of a party that is struggling to reshape itself to represent the new, demographically diverse country. Some see her as the future of the party.
Her replacement, Nauert, will be watched closely by the Indian permanent mission to the UN which had developed an easy camaraderie with Haley and had come to expect surprises such as the time when she pulled external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj ahead of the crowd to meet the president at a packed meeting on the sidelines of the UN general assembly meetings in 2018.
“Nauert seems to be a compromise candidate of two powerful foreign policy mavens of the Trump administration — Pompeo and (national security advisor John) Bolton,” said a diplomat. “Both of whom see her as someone they can manipulate, unlike her predecessor who was just as influential,” the diplomat added.