Trump Selects Kentucky Coal Executive Kelly Knight Craft As Ambassador To U.N.

The former Kentucky coal executive, Republican fundraiser, and Ambassador to Canada would replace Nikki Haley in what used to be a position dominated by more experienced diplomats.

As expected, President Trump has formally nominated Kelly Knight Craft, a billionaire coal executive and Republican fundraiser from Kentucky who had served as Ambassador to Canada for most of the first two years of Trump’s time in office, to be the next Ambassador to the United Nations:

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday formally nominated U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft to be his next United Nations ambassador, a job without a permanent owner since the end of last year.

Craft is likely to face a bruising Senate confirmation process, despite staunch backing from a fellow Kentuckian, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She is expected to endure questions about her family’s extensive business interests and her knowledge about international issues at a time when the U.S. faces geopolitical challenges ranging from Russia to China. Her husband, Joe Craft, is a billionaire coal executive with close links to the White House.

Craft would replace former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who left the U.N. post at the end of 2018. The position is almost certain to be less powerful than it was under Haley, given indications that Trump, a skeptic of multilateral international organizations, will take it out of the Cabinet.

Craft declined to comment on her nomination.

If confirmed, Craft’s new position would put her in close proximity to international climate talks that directly impact her husband’s business interests. Craft stumbled in her first Canadian TV interview when asked about the Trump administration pulling out of the Paris climate accord, saying it was important to listen to “both sides” of the science.

As America’s top diplomat in Canada, Craft has had an important but relatively easy diplomatic position compared with the U.N. role. She managed to maintain a good relationship with Ottawa while Trump imposed punishing steel and aluminum tariffs, threatened to withdraw from the NAFTA trade deal and criticized Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

But Senate Democrats have said they will show no mercy during her confirmation process for the U.N. role. They plan to press Craft on thorny geopolitical issues, from Iran to North Korea to Venezuela.

The scene will be far different from Craft’s relatively breezy hearing for the Canada post. However, Craft did stumble over one question during the gathering on whether she believed Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. She said “that it looks as if yes,” but that she’d “have to investigate this further or learn more points on this.”

While appointing someone like Craft to a relatively easy Ambassadorial position such as Ambassador to Canada or one of America’s other allies has long been a common practice by President’s of both parties, this generally has not been true of Ambassadors to the United Nations. With some notable exceptions, this position has generally been reserved for people with diplomatic experience or people with strong academic backgrounds in the foreign policy field. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that being Ambassador to the U.N., as with the same position in nations considered strong allies or adversaries, is a position that would seemingly require some level of diplomatic experience.

In President Trump’s case, though, that has not been the case. Craft’s predecessor, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, had no diplomatic experience before taking office. Despite this, one does have to admit that Haley seemingly did a good job in the position, at times taking a far more forceful position on issues such as Russian interference in the 2016 election and Russian involvement in the conflict in Ukraine than the Administration itself did. Perhaps the same will be proven to be true about Craft, but we don’t know that to be the case.

This is why the upcoming confirmation hearings will be important. While it’s likely that Craft will be easily confirmed given the Republican majority in the Senate, the American public should be given the opportunity to judge her based on her level of knowledge and her position on the multitude of issues she will be forced to deal with as Ambassador to the United Nations. Haley performed her job fairly well given her lack of previous experience. Whether lightning will strike twice and Craft will prove to be equally adept at adjusting to her new role is unclear at this point.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, Politicians, United Nations, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. James Joyner says:

    The second half of this

    with diplomatic experience or people with strong academic backgrounds in the foreign policy field.

    is an important qualifier.

    Lots of—indeed, most—recent UN ambassadors have been diplomatic neophytes. Negroponte and Hollbroke are really the only ones who could be said to be anything like professional diplomats.

    As I noted when Haley was nominated,

    While the choice struck me as odd when I first saw the news, her lack of foreign policy credentials are not particularly unusual. Indeed, some of our most famous UN Ambassadors have been politicians with no diplomatic background. While the first person to hold the post, Edward Stettinius Jr., had previously served as Secretary of State, many of his successors were neophytes. Indeed, his immediate successor, Warren Austin, was a United States Senator. Warren had spent a year in China as a business attorney but that’s arguably less overseas experience than a coastal state governor.

    Among other notable non-diplomats to hold the post have been Adlai Stevenson, an Illinois governor who was twice the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for president; retired Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg; former Congressman and failed Senate candidate George H. W. Bush; newsman John Scali; former Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton; civil rights leader and Congressman Andrew Young; longtime Congressman Bill Richardson; and former Missouri Senator John Danforth.

    Reagan’s first UN Ambassador, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, had no previous government experience but was a foreign policy academic. Ditto Bill Clinton’s first, Madeleine Albright.

    And, man, was I right on this:

    I haven’t followed Haley’s career all that closely but she strikes me as a strong leader with good sensibilities on controversial issues. She’s a welcome sane voice in an uncertain administration.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    We have to take into account that there is probably no serious person who would take the position under Trump. As usual, he is left with fifth-raters and hacks to chose from. Well, in this case that’s not quite right. It’s the spouse of a fifth rate hack.

  3. Slugger says:

    The role of the US on the world stage is changing. For years the UN was our sounding board and US military missions from Korea to Mogadishu to Serbia were carried out under the UN flag. We no longer control the UN, and our President does not consider it worth a high profile appointment.