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.