WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump has decided to nominate State Department spokesman Heather Nauert to replace departing United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, according to three people familiar with the decision.
Nauert, 48, is an unorthodox choice for the UN role given that she had little experience in government or foreign policy before joining the administration in April 2017 after several years as an anchor and correspondent for Fox News, including on the "Fox and Friends" show watched by Trump. Haley also didn't have foreign policy experience when she took the UN posting, but she had twice been elected governor of South Carolina.
Nevertheless, Nauert has gained Secretary of State Michael Pompeo's trust after being excluded from the inner circle of his predecessor, Rex Tillerson. She is also closely aligned with Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner.
Nauert has accepted the job and her nomination will be announced as soon as Friday (Dec 7), said a person familiar with the matter.
White House aides believe her key assets include strong communications skills and a fluency with the Trump White House, particularly in understanding the thinking of the president and secretary of state.
The president picked Nauert after considering other potential nominees including former White House aide Dina Powell, ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft and ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell.
If she wins Senate confirmation, Nauert will face a broad agenda at the UN topped by the need to maintain international sanctions on North Korea. Haley rallied global support for tougher measures in 2017, when Pyongyang ramped up its ballistic missile and weapons testing, but there has been increasing pressure to ease up on the restrictions following Trump's meeting with Kim Jong Un in June.
She'll also take up the administration's efforts to defend Israel at the UN and counter what Haley called the organisation's bias against the Jewish state. In a sign of the difficulties the administration has had, the UN General Assembly on Thursday rejected a resolution condemning Hamas, the Islamist group that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.
A key question with Nauert will be whether the president keeps the UN envoy job as a Cabinet-level position, or downgrades it to report through Pompeo, as other administrations have sometimes done. Haley argued for a Cabinet-level post after, she said, initially being considered for the secretary of state job.
But Haley got the Cabinet-level job when Tillerson - who was less aggressive in pushing his policies than Pompeo - was secretary of state. And John Bolton, the national security adviser who had his own stint as UN ambassador under President George W. Bush, is also exercising more influence over foreign policy. That may make it harder for Nauert to carve out her own role as an equal.
At the State Department, Nauert scaled back what had previously been daily news conferences in previous administrations to sometimes just once-a-week affairs. She was widely criticised when she joined Pompeo on an emergency trip to Saudi Arabia in October following the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi - the sombre mission appeared to be forgotten as Nauert posted a tourist-style photograph of herself smiling in Riyadh.
Nauert's relationship with Tillerson was fraught and she had been close to quitting the job last year. But the White House urged her to stay, saying that Tillerson wouldn't be around forever, according to a person familiar with the talks.
Haley surprised White House officials in October when she said she would resign by the end of year, citing the need for a break after two terms as governor and two years at the UN. Her trusted relationship with Trump was clear when he hosted an Oval Office farewell for her and she vowed to campaign for him in 2020.
Nauert has indicated a priority for her is the plight of Myanmar's Rohingya minority. She travelled to the region last year.