The Trump administration has been in office 559 days and counting. Nikki Haley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina and now the American ambassador to the United Nations, has been in office since Jan. 25, 2017.
Since her nomination, Haley has undergone two Congressional hearings, the first in January 2017 with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on her nomination as United States ambassador; and the second, in June 2017, with the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on “advancing U.S. interests at the United Nations.”
What has she accomplished as ambassador, compared with what she promised to focus on during her two Congressional hearings? As an ambassador to the UN, she does not make policy but carries it out on behalf of the White House and/or the State Department. So far, her attention has dwelled on a mix of heavily pro-Israel stances and castigating the UN, even using the word “disdain” to describe her feelings about the latter, regardless of such perks as housing paid by US taxpayers in a luxury high-rise building near the UN.
Moreover, she has consistently criticized Russia for its actions in Ukraine, for its meddling in the US presidential election in 2016 and for its role in the Syrian war. But she also admitted that she hasn’t asked President Trump “any further questions [on Russia] because I just — it is not something that is on my radar.”
Overall, Haley has not strayed widely from some of the commitments she made in the hearings but she has let others go, earning her perhaps a C+. Here is a rundown, based on transcripts from both Congressional hearings, by topic:
At the outset of Haley’s Jan. 18, 2017 hearing, three Republican senators — Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee (Tennessee), as well as Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Tim Scott (South Carolina) — established the general themes of concern in the hearing: Russia’s occupation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine; as well as Syria, Israel, Iran, North Korea and UN reform. But the hearing lasted several hours, and all members of the committee asked Haley questions, including its only female member, Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), expanding the topics to climate change, human rights and other matters.
Six months after the Senate hearing, the House hearing — which also lasted hours — concentrated on many of the same issues addressed earlier: UN reform, Russia, North Korea and Israel. Representatives took the opportunity to opine with Haley, resulting in, according to the transcript, pages of thoughts to Haley’s paragraphs of answers.
January 2017: In her opening statement, Haley promised “to reform the U.N. in ways that rebuild the confidence of the American people. We must build an international institution that honors America’s commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights.”
She also claimed that Americans are fed up with seeming UN inaction, waste and corruption, as well as its mistreatment of Israel, naming these elements as basis for reform.
A 2017 poll by the Pew Research Center, however, found that 64 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the UN; the same year, the Better World Campaign saw 88 percent of those who were polled favored US engagement with the UN; in 2018, Gallup found that just slightly less than 50 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the UN.
Later in the Senate hearing, claiming that is “what I have done all my life. I love to fix things. And I see a UN that can absolutely be fixed,” Haley cited reforms that needed to take place, including the UN’s peacekeeping operations. She also called out the UN Human Rights Council and Unesco as needing reform. By June 2018, Haley led the US withdrawal from the Council, saying nothing had been done. (Under the Trump administration, the US has also withdrawn its membership from Unesco and its participation in the UN-brokered Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, among other similar decisions.)
In the Senate hearing, Haley responded to calls for reform by the senators with calls for increasing other UN member states’ contributions, boiling down reforms as a mandate on a “return on investment,” demanding other countries to “have skin in the game” through increased investments, regardless that member countries’ assessed contributions to the UN general operating budget and separate peacekeeping budget are based primarily on a country’s wealth.
June 2017: With six months on the job, Haley was more specific about reforming the UN, combining her focus with budget cuts to the UN. She spoke of continuing reforms for peacekeeping operations, the possibility of pulling out of the Human Rights Council and reforming the Security Council and the UN’s mistreatment of Israel.
As part of her reforms to the Security Council, Haley said, “For the first time ever during the U.S. Presidency of the Security Council, we convened a meeting dedicated solely to the protection of human rights and their relationship to conflict.” The Security Council consists of five permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US) and 10 elected members. Her claim could be disputed, given that human rights are embedded in the UN Charter and most planks of the UN, including in peacekeeping mission mandates; additionally, the topic comes up regularly in Security Council meetings.
By December 2017, the US announced it would cut more than $285 million from the overall budget of the UN, while looking for continued ways “to increase the UN’s efficiency while protecting our interests,” according to Haley.
On UN reform, a package of changes in basic structures and workflow of the UN, coupled with deep cuts to UN peacekeeping missions, was approved by the 193-member General Assembly in July 2018. The efforts were initially proposed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who campaigned for the office as a reform candidate in 2016. The reforms and cuts were supported by many Western and Latin American nations as well as Japan.
As the Senate hearing began, various senators originally sought confirmation from Haley that she thought Russia’s military encroachment into Georgia and Crimea and other parts of Ukraine violated international law. Minority Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) sought confirmation that Haley would stand against what he described as “Russia’s cynical obstructionism on the UN Security Council,” referring to Russia’s use of vetoes to thwart decisions on the Syrian war.
Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) threw a twist into the hearing when he asked that Haley “present a Security Council resolution to counter Russia for their activity to try to influence the elections of other nations.” To which Haley responded, “Yes, Russia or any other country that tried to commit that act.” Haley was one of the few people in the Trump cabinet who spoke publicly, early on, against Russian interference in the US presidential election of 2016, calling interference in a sovereign state’s election “warfare.” (Trump has questioned US intelligence that Russia interfered in US elections, most recently during the Helsinki summit on July 16, 2018, after which he backtracked, saying he had misspoke, confused by a double negative.)
An investigation into the full scope of Russia’s influence and interference in the US election is underway, as are investigations into the full extent to which Russia interfered in the Brexit vote in Britain, the 2016 French election and the 2017 German elections, of which the Brookings Institution examined closely. The Washington Post has been tracking Russia’s overall influence across Europe.
June 2017: During her House hearing, Haley at one point told the committee that she has never talked to President Trump about any possible collusion by him with Russia in his presidential campaign; at another point, Haley said that the president had never called her to tell her to stop criticizing Russia. She noted that Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, has maintained a working relationship with Russia to discuss the conflict in Syria and to counter terrorism globally.
When questioned about Russia, Haley responded: “You have seen me bash Russia on Syria. You have seen me call out Russia if we see any sort of wrongdoings by Russia and, yes, I do think Russia meddled in our elections and, yes, I have said that to the President.
“So having said that, I haven’t asked the President any further questions because I just — it is not something that is on my radar.”
To date, Haley has not proposed a Security Council resolution on Russian election interference in the US or elsewhere. In her defense, Russia would probably veto any such resolution. But Haley — no stranger to showboating, whether standing in front of missiles that she claimed were used by Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia or by walking out during a Palestinian official’s speech at the Security Council — has not taken the opportunity to bring this meddling to the world stage.
In her Senate hearing, Haley committed to both supporting Israel as a close ally of the US and to the peace process for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Two additional promises were made by Haley on Israel, on which she is batting .500:
- Haley committed in the Senate to moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in response to Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) asking: “Have you taken a position, would you support moving the embassy from Tel Aviv into that consulate? It’s really just a matter of changing a sign. Is that something you — would that be one of the actions we could take to repair the damage of that resolution?” [Johnson was also referring to the December 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israel’s illegal settlements and which the US abstained in the vote.] Haley responded to Johnson, saying, “Absolutely, not only is that what Israel wants, but this Congress has said that that’s what they support.” In May 2018 in Israel, members of the US First Family, the Trump administration and the US Congress celebrated the move of part of the US embassy to Jerusalem. (A new embassy remains to be built, estimated to cost $21 million.) Haley was not invited to the celebration.
While members of the Trump family and some members of the US Congress were celebrating the move, conflict raged in Gaza, with Israeli soldiers firing on Palestinian civilians protesting.
• During her Senate hearing, Haley also promised to promote a two-state solution as part of the peace process and to speak out against Palestine or Israel if either party threatened the prospects for peace. Haley then went on record in May 2018 commending Israel’s “restraint” during the Gaza protests, in which the country killed an estimated 140 Gazans, while condemning Palestinian protesters. (No Israelis were killed during the protests, which lasted more than two months.)
June 2017: Haley’s statements regarding Israel were consistent throughout her testimony, calling out the perceived mistreatment of Israel, the anti-Israel bias in the Security Council and even using the qualification “anti-Semitic.” Haley focused on the mandate she had been given from the American people, she said, to right the anti-Israel bias and the “deep sense of their betrayal [with] the passage of Resolution 2334.”
A May 2018 CBS News poll found that 41 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of relations with Israel, while 43 percent disapprove. Most Republicans approve, while most Democrats disapprove.
Haley fielded questions from most of the senators on North Korea and its nuclear program; her answers included the need for alliances in addressing the issues presented by Chairman Kim Jong Un and his regime as well as maintaining punitive sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear weapons threats and firing of ballistic missiles. Haley talked of the failure of previous administrations to prevent North Korea’s looming threat.
In light of Trump’s Singapore summit with Kim in June 2018, which produced a vague agreement on nuclear disarmament, and recent intelligence reports showing that Kim has increased production of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, Haley’s exchange with Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) on North Korea in the January hearing is worth rereading.
Merkley: And specifically, what do you think that we should do more in regard to heading off the continued development of the missiles and the weapons?
Haley: I actually think we need to have a lot of conversations with a lot of other countries. . . . North Korea is trying to exercise their muscle right now and they’re trying to show their strength. . . . We need to talk to other countries within the area and let them know of how strong of a threat this is. And we need to try and create a united front in approaching North Korea because North Korea will feel it if China puts the pressure on them. And I think that’s very, very important because it is getting to a very dangerous situation.
Merkley: But as you pointed out, we’ve done this and then North Korea goes ahead anyway. And so in terms of the conversation, China has said it’s onboard, it’s agreed to this, cut all the banking relationships, inspect every piece of cargo, cut their ability to generate revenue. Is there — should we specifically draw any sort of red line over the missile tests or the nuclear weapon tests? And if so, what would that be?
Haley: Well, obviously that’s a conversation I need to have with the National Security Council as well as with the president-elect. But I do think this warrants very strong conversations with China to say that this is a slap in the face to China. This is a slap in the face to every country that told North Korea they were not to proceed. And the fact that they are doing it anyway should be offensive to all countries that are involved in the sanctions. And so I think that we do need to see, where do we go forward?
June 2017: Much concern was expressed by the House representatives on North Korea. Haley also answered questions on the human-rights violations in the country, the nuclear threat presented by Kim and China’s role in the dialogue with the US and North Korea. Haley called out China for not supporting sanctions or other measures against North Korea. [By the summer of 2017, the UN Security Council approved a large package of sanctions against North Korea, with China onboard.]
Philippines, Venezuela and Human Rights
January 2017: When pressed on her willingness to protect human rights, particularly the extrajudicial murders committed by the Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, Haley responded:
“Yes, I am. I’m prepared to speak up on anything that goes against American values. And the American values is something that we should talk loudly about all the time to all countries, because I think it’s the values that we hold dear and it is at the core of what the United States’ American heart is all about. We have always been the moral compass of the world and we need to continue to act out and vocalize that as we go forward.”
June 2017: Six months into the job, Haley spent most of her testimony raising alarms about Venezuela and the democratic crisis there, including the rising civilian casualties during protests against the government of Nicolás Maduro.
While Haley has not spoken out about Duterte of the Philippines, she has spoken out and tweeted about the calamities in Venezuela. She also led the US decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2018, a controversial move among human-rights advocates globally.
In the Senate hearing, Haley spoke frankly about her pro-life beliefs and willingness to allow access to family planning, including contraception, but also about her unwillingness to promote abortion, in response to questions posed by Senator Shaheen.
“I will support any efforts that help educate, help plan, help let [women] know what contraceptions are in place so that we can avoid any other further action,” she said. “I am strongly pro-life and so anything that we can do to keep from having abortions or to keep them from not knowing what is available I will absolutely support.”
Haley stressed that abortion should not be conflated with the work of family planning. At the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women, both in 2017 and 2018, the final resolution was delayed as the US delegation, acting on behalf of the Trump administration, pushed what some abortion advocates called a “regressive” position, to the distress of many other participants. The scene at the UN women’s conference in 2017 was even more angry because of US postures.
In her House hearing, Haley was questioned about the US budget proposal by Trump, which zeroed out funding for some organizations that provided assistance to women and children in conflict zones and developing countries, such as the UN Population Fund (Unfpa) and Unicef. Haley repeated the false claim of forced sterilizations in China as the reason for cutting all funding to Unfpa, but that critical support for women and children would be provided through the US Agency for International Development (Usaid.) She upheld the need to supply Unicef with funding. (It is led by an American appointee, Henrietta Fore.)
The US did cut funding to Unfpa, and by the end of 2017, the US had withdrawn from Unesco, the UN arm to promote cultural preservation and global education.
Haley peppered her responses in both hearings with language that included Trump-like phrases, such as “The time has come for American strength again” and vowing to “never sit passively while America’s interests are run down at the UN.” During her Senate hearing, Haley signaled her alignment with the Trump administration’s policy criticizing the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris agreement, by diplomatic answers that never acknowledged the imperative of either pact. By May 2018, the US had withdrawn from both the Iran deal and the Paris climate accord.
But Haley’s stances did not perfectly parallel Trump’s published views and policies. When questioned by Senator Kaine (D-Virginia) on whether she agreed “that efforts to restrict the press would be a clear violation of not just the UN Charter but American values,” Haley responded: “Absolutely.”
Yet Haley serves on the cabinet of a president who has repeatedly called the American press “the enemy of the people” and who often labels reporting “false” or “lies.” With the June 2018 massacre of journalists working for the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., the US is second, tied with Syria, in the number of journalists killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. (Afghanistan is first.)
Haley has spoken up for press freedom regarding protesters in Iran and for supporting the annual World Press Freedom Day; she regularly comments officially on the two Reuters journalists being held by the Burmese government but not on the plight of hundreds of other jailed journalists globally. An avid tweeter, Haley did not interrupt coverage of her trip to India in June 2018 to condemn the Capital Gazette murders.
Haley is not generous with her time and communications with the national and international press covering the UN. She has held few media briefings at the US mission to the UN, rarely issues readouts of what is said during official meetings in such country visits as India and does not post a calendar. Her only tweet on media for the month of July has been to admonish a Washington Post reporter, Jeffrey Stein, for inaccurate reporting. Her press office recently asked a reporter who wrote about the Global Compact for Migration for The Nation for a correction, based on false information provided by the US mission to the UN.
But Haley is not always aligned with Trump. In stark contrast to the isolationism proposed by Trump, who has been criticizing multilateral partnerships like NATO and the UN, Haley affirmed her commitment to NATO in answering several senators’ questions on the topic and stressed the need to strengthen it.
“I think NATO is an important alliance for us to have,” she said at the Senate hearing. “And now we need more allies than ever and we need more alliances than we’ve ever had. And I think it’s one that we need to strengthen.”
As the world watched in July 2018, Trump attended the annual NATO meeting in Brussels, calling the European Union “foes” of the US. Haley has not spoken or tweeted on behalf of the Western alliance since Trump’s remarks.
As an ambassador, Haley established her independence early in the Senate hearing, saying:
“[President Trump] said that he wanted me to have a very strong voice in the UN and he wanted us to have a higher profile in the UN and to really use it to work. And so I do think that obviously, you know, any comments that the president-elect has made, those are his comments.”
port a free press and democracy, please donate to PassBlue, a nonprofit journalism site.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
Laura E. Kirkpatrick is an editor, writer and researcher who has covered international, national and civic social enterprise and development, women’s issues and the media for Gannett Publications, ESPN and other media outlets. Based in Buffalo, N.Y., Kirkpatrick wrote PassBlue’s most popular article in 2015, “In New York State, a City Willing to Settle Refugees the Right Way”; in 2017, her story on sexual harassment at the UN was also among the top 5 for the year. Kirkpatrick also manages social media and audience development for PassBlue. She received a New Media Editorial Fellowship from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and has a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in English from Hamilton College.