The nomination of Heather Nauert to succeed Nikki Haley as United States ambassador to the United Nations has quickly enraged some international women’s rights groups and a major Islamic advocacy organization based in the United States, portending a tense confirmation hearing in the US Senate for Nauert.
The announcement of her nomination last week by President Trump was greeted with skepticism and derision by policymakers, advocates of human rights and others who noted her obvious lack of foreign policy experience, besides fielding reporters’ questions and spinning the government’s agenda as spokesperson for the State Department since April 2017.
Haley leaves her job by the end of the year, amid reports that she is staying in New York and may work for a television network or a hedge-fund operation, while fund-raising for a possible presidential run in 2020 should Trump not be a candidate.
Detractors of Nauert also expressed dismay at her last job as an anchor with Fox News and its continued encroachment in the White House inner ranks. Nauert’s name originally surfaced as a successor to Haley in early November, but Trump then seemed to be considering other people instead. (Marillyn Hewson, the chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin, was also rumored by some diplomats at the UN to be a candidate; the company neither confirmed nor denied the rumor.)
Two prominent organizations who work on behalf of women’s rights swiftly reacted to Nauert’s nomination, with the Washington-based International Women’s Health Coalition calling the move a continuation of “regressive policies at the UN” in a statement.
“Nauert lacks the foreign policy experience and commitment to human rights and multilateralism crucial for this post,” said Shannon Kowalski, the organization’s director of advocacy and policy.
Planned Parenthood Global was blunter. Latanya Mapp Frett, the executive director, said: “Instead of fostering diplomacy, Heather Nauert has embraced hate and discrimination. The Trump-Pence administration has already eviscerated America’s standing as an ally to the sexual and reproductive health and rights movement, from empowering LGBTQ hate groups on the global stage, to erasing reproductive rights from the global human rights agenda.
“Our next U.N. ambassador will need to embark on the tireless task of brokering deals with a diverse, international body on behalf of the U.S. and protecting and advancing human rights for all people. Nauert has limited diplomatic experience and a history of racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-reproductive health rhetoric. She does not embody the values of this role, and is not fit to represent the United States on the global stage. Planned Parenthood opposes this nomination.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Nauert would inherit a strategy set in motion by Haley, who, Kowalski said, had ostracized civil society, undermined sexual and reproductive health rights in UN forums and oversaw a “decline in US leadership at the United Nations.” Haley also withdrew the US from the Human Rights Council.
There is nothing in Nauert’s record, Kowalski added, “to suggest that she would restrain the administration’s efforts to censor language or to undermine and remove UN commitments on gender equality, sexuality education, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
While at the State Department, Nauert staunchly defended the administration’s decision to remove reproductive rights topics from the State Department’s human-rights reports. She argued that the agency intended to “sharpen the focus of the report on abuses of internationally recognized human rights and the most egregious issues.” That stance disregards global agreements and signals that women’s human rights — particularly reproductive rights — are dispensable, the International Women’s Health Coalition said.
In response to criticisms about Nauert’s record on human rights generally, a State Department official said in an email: “Throughout her time at the State Department, Heather has been a strong advocate for human rights by shining a light on the Rohingya refugee crisis, the plight of Uighur Muslims in China, and the erosion of democracy in Venezuela and the struggles of religious minorities in Iraq.”
Planned Parenthood Global also described how Nauert would follow in Haley’s footsteps. Haley, it said, had appointed LGBTQ hate groups to serve on the 2017 American delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women; supported banning US funding for the UN Population Fund, which supports reproductive health in more than 150 countries; and deputized US delegates like Valerie Huber (of Health and Human Services) and Bethany Kozma (of Usaid) to promote the administration’s anti-women’s agenda throughout negotiations at the Commission on the Status of Women last spring.
Some commentators and journalists say the choice of Nauert demeans the stature of the US ambassador at the UN because of her inexperience as a diplomat and confirms that the marginalization of the UN by the Trump White House is “now almost complete.”
Nauert’s history of spreading anti-Muslim and Islamophobic comments has also been reported recently. Some nongovernmental organizations focused on these remarks and other comments to oppose her nomination.
An article in Huffington Post said that Nauert “mocked Muslims in a 2016 tweet that linked to a New York Times story about Muslims’ concerns over then-presidential candidate Trump.” (Nauert had tweeted, “They should meet ISIS.”)
The article also said she tweeted links to jihadwatch.org, an anti-Muslim site run by Robert Spencer, a prominent anti-Muslim activist who is banned from Britain for his Islamophobic and racist rhetoric.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, called on Trump to withdraw his nomination of Nauert, saying she is “unqualified and Islamophobic.”
Stephen Miles, the director of Win Without War, a network of national progressive organizations, released a statement on Nauert, saying: “Former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert had no business serving as State Department spokesperson, and she certainly isn’t qualified to become our nation’s next ambassador to the United Nations.
“Nauert not only has no meaningful experience and is seemingly unaware of the most basic historical facts, but she also has a history of xenophobic fearmongering, smearing refugees, and spreading Benghazi conspiracy theories and anti-Muslim hate. . . . “
Ambassador Michael Kozak, from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, defended Nauert’s record on human rights overall, saying in an email: “She has been our ‘go to’ person when we in the human rights bureau have had an issue to advance publicly around the world. But perhaps more importantly, she has herself initiated efforts to call out violators of human rights and show solidarity with those struggling for American values of human dignity and freedom around the world, urging us to join her in showing support.”
Kozak noted that Nauert, for example, had organized an event highlighting the work of the White Helmets rescuers in Syria; has been a “staunch” advocate for press freedom; and presided at UN General Assembly events “to raise awareness on Iran’s malign influence and the scores of political prisoners languishing in Iran’s jails.”
“From the very beginning, Ms. Nauert has been THE strong voice in promotion [of] American values of dignity and freedom,” Kozak said.
It appears unlikely that Nauert’s ambassadorship will rank at the cabinet level, as reported by several media. Among those familiar with the Trump White House, Nauert is considered a team player who will spout the party line and do what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton want done at the UN.
While Nauert is highly regarded at the State Department, a source confirmed for this article, she is not considered as politically sharp as Haley, who is an ambitious politician, albeit one with nominal foreign policy experience before she took the UN job, too. (Her trade deals with European automakers when she was governor of South Carolina have been referenced as global exposure.) Haley rose to the national platform of the Republican Party through the brutal politics of her state, pundits have said.
Until her job with the State Department, Nauert was a television personality. She is also remembered by some journalists who report on the State Department for her first press conference there, when she consulted a large binder for answers. (Haley also takes a binder into the UN Security Council to use to read her speeches; the binder is carried into the chamber and out by a young aide.)
Republican pundits are worried about how Nauert will fare during her nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Despite her confirmation being almost a fait acompli, given that Republicans control the committee, she will face at least one Democrat, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who said of Trump’s choice: “Our foreign policy is a mess, and the president was laughed at in his last speech before the U.N. I’m not sure anybody would advise him that the way to correct all his mistakes is to put a Fox & Friends anchor as our top ambassador to the United Nations.”
Richard Gowan, a British commentator on everything UN, wrote of Nauert, “It’s a remarkable promotion for someone with only a few years of experience in the State Department — it may also turn out to be an explosive assignment.”
This article was updated to include more comments from the State Department.
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and near Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working in New York at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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.