Nikki Haley chosen to serve as Donald Trump’s US ambassador to United Nations
Donald Trump has chosen the first women for senior posts in his administration, announcing on Wednesday that the South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, as US ambassador to the United Nations, and Betsy DeVos as his secretary for education.
Both cabinet-level positions require Senate confirmation and came amid speculation that Trump was poised to nominate rival presidential candidate Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In a statement, the president-elect said Haley was “a proven dealmaker and we look forward to making plenty of deals”, adding that the South Carolina governor “will be a great leader representing us on the world stage”.
An outspoken Trump critic throughout much of the presidential race, Haley would become Trump’s first female – and first non-white – cabinet-level official if the appointment were confirmed by the Senate. Critics, however, are likely to seize on her lack of foreign policy experience.
Haley, 44, accepted the offer, saying in a statement: “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.”
She said she would “be forever grateful” that South Carolinians “took a chance on a little-known, 38-year-old, minority, female governor”.
Two sources familiar with the decision told the Associated Press the ambassadorship would be a cabinet-level position, which is at the discretion of the president. She will succeed Samantha Power.
Trump called DeVos “a brilliant and passionate education advocate” in a statement on Wednesday.
She faced criticism even before it was formally announced on Wednesday afternoon. Conservatives warned that DeVos, a longtime Republican donor, previously supported the Common Core education standards that Trump railed against during the campaign.
Haley had initially campaigned for Marco Rubio and then Ted Cruz in the Republican primary. Trump tweeted in March: “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” Haley denounced several of Trump’s campaign comments and urged voters to “reject the siren call of the angriest voices” but she did eventually vote for him.
Lindsey Graham, a senator for South Carolina and another longtime Trump adversary, praised Haley as “a strong leader” who would be an “outstanding ambassador” to the UN and a “strong supporter” of Israel.
“As governor of South Carolina she has recruited and dealt with some of the largest international business firms in the world,” he said. “Her husband was a member of the South Carolina national guard who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan.”
Graham added: “Governor Haley and her family fully understand what is at stake in the war against radical Islam. I know she will be a valuable ally to President-elect Trump as our nation tries to re-engage the world and lead from the front, not behind.”
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said: “Governor Nikki Haley is a brilliant choice to serve as our country’s ambassador to the United Nations. Governor Haley is hard-working, smart and has a strong world view that will represent the United States well on the global stage.”
At the UN missions of US allies, diplomats were hastily researching Haley’s record on Wednesday morning, but some ambassadors said they had met her in her role as governor, so she was not entirely an unknown quantity.
The European Union envoy to the UN, João Vale de Almeida, tweeted that he had come across her when he had been posted to Washington and that he looked forward to working with her, especially because there was a lot for the EU and US to do together.
The French envoy, François Delattre, who had also met Haley when he was France’s ambassador to Washington, said: “We had a very good contact. She is a highly regarded, very respected professional.
“France and the United States must confront together the challenges we face, including here at the UN,” Delattre said. “More than ever, we need an America that is committed to world affairs. It’s true also here at the UN, where a strong Franco-American partnership is needed, based on our common values and on our shared interest.”
Delattre’s remarks reflected general relief around the UN that Trump’s nominee did not appear to be an ideological unilateralist sent to New York to make a point. However, that relief is cautious, pending the announcement of a nominee for secretary of state.
“It’s worth noting that the job will be a cabinet office,” a European diplomat said. “That is a reassuring. It’s also true that she doesn’t have a lot of experience, but that can be a good thing in that she doesn’t carry baggage.”
Haley, who met Trump last week, has a track record of taking on and beating a Republican party establishment dominated by white men. She was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa in Bamberg, South Carolina, to Sikh parents who emigrated from India. Haley has told how her brother was teased at first for not cutting his hair, in line with Sikh tradition, and Haley and her sister were disqualified from a local junior pageant because the judges were “flummoxed” by their ethnicity, she told the New York Times in 2010.
“It’s survival mode,” Haley said. “You learn to try and show people how you’re more alike than you are different.”
Her father worked as a biology professor and her mother created a clothing business, where Haley began keeping books at the age of 13. She studied accounting at Clemson University, where she met her husband, Michael Haley, an army national guard captain who served in Afghanistan in 2013.
They married in 1996 in two ceremonies, one Sikh and one Methodist, although Haley has said she converted to Christianity before her wedding and that both her children were baptised in a Methodist church.