Nauert’s pick as U.N. envoy hints at downgrading of role
WASHINGTON – President Trump confirmed Friday that he would nominate Heather Nauert, a former “Fox & Friends” host who has served as the State Department spokeswoman since last year, to replace Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations and help promote an “America First” foreign policy that has at times rankled some of the country’s leading allies.
Nauert has impressed Trump with her fierce advocacy and telegenic presence, while earning the trust of the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.
Nauert “has done a great job” at the State Department, Trump said in making his announcement. “She’s very talented, very smart, very quick, and I think she’s going to be respected by all,” he said.
But she would bring less experience in government or international affairs to the high-profile job than almost anyone who has held it, generating instant skepticism that may complicate her Senate confirmation.
If confirmed, Nauert may serve more as a public face for the administration than as a policymaker, leaving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, to dominate decisionmaking back in Washington. Many in Washington saw the appointment as a way for Bolton to consolidate power.
Unlike Haley, a former governor of South Carolina who, with her own political stature and ambitions, occasionally spoke out in variance to the president’s talking points, officials expect Nauert to hew closer to the administration line. The White House would not say whether the position will retain Cabinet rank, but few expect it to.
Ambassadors to the U.N. typically fit one of two models – either longtime foreign policy hands like Thomas Pickering, Richard Holbrooke and Zalmay Khalilzad, or politicians of stature like Henry Cabot Lodge, Adlai Stevenson and George Bush. Nauert fits neither model, having spent her career in television journalism until joining the State Department in April 2017.
“The reality is that is a complex, important, substantive job,” said Susan E. Rice, who held the post under President Barack Obama. “It is not a press job. It’s not a job for a glorified spokesperson.” The ambassador needs to “go toe to toe every day with the Russians and the Chinese, and it’s not evident to me that she has the background that equips her to step into that job and hit the ground running.”
But John Negroponte, who had the job under President George W. Bush, said that Nauert was well versed in the administration’s foreign policy and seemed to have good relations with Pompeo and the White House, vital for the job. “She’s had total immersion in the day-to-day issues,” he said.
Colleagues from her cable news days said she was among the more serious reporters who appeared on Fox News’ morning lineup. “It’s no more unusual than a businessman ending up as president,” said Greta Van Susteren, a former Fox anchor. “She’s smart, she’s traveled the world, and she can talk to people, and that’s essentially what we need at the U.N.”
Nauert is one of numerous television personalities with roles in Trump’s as-seen-on-TV administration. Bolton was a Fox contributor, and Bill Shine, a former Fox co-president, serves as deputy chief of staff. Larry Kudlow, a longtime CNBC host, stars as the president’s chief economic adviser.
Nauert, 48, had to overcome a steep learning curve and a rocky relationship with her first boss, Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, who viewed her as a White House spy and did not take her on many trips. She repeatedly talked about quitting. But she developed a bond with Pompeo, who has promoted her within, and some former colleagues said she was a hard worker and quick study.
Critics were less generous, pointing to gaffes during her State Department tenure. On a trip to Saudi Arabia in October, Nauert posted on Instagram a smiling selfie outside a government complex in Riyadh, a discordant image given that the purpose of the visit was to discuss the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.