President Trump announced that he was nominating Heather Nauert, the chief State Department spokesperson, to succeed Nikki Haley as the United States ambassador to the United Nations on Dec. 7, 2018, after Haley resigned the job in October. Since Trump’s announcement, by tweet, much has been reported on the nomination and bare-bones experience of Nauert as the top US diplomat to the UN.
Yet the White House has not sent a formal nomination to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which schedules and holds the confirmation hearing for Nauert. The White House Presidential Personnel Office is responsible for sending the nomination paperwork.
“I expect that a hearing won’t take place until at least February, but committee rules dictate that we will announce any hearing at least a week in advance,” said Suzanne B. Wrasse, the communications director for Senator James Risch (R-Idaho), the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Wrasse said that the time frame was “not unique so far” for such a hearing, given the paperwork that must be sent from the White House to the Senate committee for a hearing to be scheduled. But the US government shutdown could be delaying the process further, especially if the paperwork involves the State Department, which is on partial shutdown and where Nauert works. [Update: As of Jan. 22, the paperwork still hasn’t been sent.]
In addition, Wrasse said that often the paperwork that is sent to the committee is incomplete, so that problem prolongs the process. Even if the formal nomination arrived at the committee this week, the Senate is in recess next week, so the hearing won’t be scheduled “until early February at the soonest,” Wrasse said.
The Democrats on the committee remain the same as last year, with the ranking member being Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. For the Republicans, the new members are Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mitt Romney of Utah.
Nauert reportedly attended Trump’s first Cabinet meeting of the year on Jan. 2. Her press office at the State Department did not respond to questions in an email.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Cohen has been the acting permanent representative of the US to the UN since Jan. 2, 2019, after Haley left on Dec. 31. Cohen was the deputy permanent representative since June 8, 2018. Cohen, a career Foreign Service member, was nominated as deputy in February 2018 by Trump.
Cohen has been representing the US in meetings of the 15-member UN Security Council, the most powerful organ in the world body, this year so far, discussing such topics as the election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the new peace talks for Yemen. He actually has been filling in for Haley regularly since her resignation on Oct. 9, as she rarely showed up for Council meetings since then.
“She’s very talented, very smart, very quick, and I think she’s going to be respected by all,” Trump said of Nauert, when he announced her nomination in early December.
This news was preceded a month earlier, when Trump first mentioned the possibility of Nauert and then seemed to consider other people for the job. That included Marillyn Hewson, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, according to a rumor among diplomats at the UN.
Nauert, 48, is originally from Rockford, Ill., but lives on the North Shore of Long Island now, with her family. She was appointed chief spokesperson for the US State Department by Trump in April 2017. Then, she worked for Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, until he was fired by Trump in March 2018. Mike Pompeo became secretary of state on April 26, 2018.
Much scrutiny has been made of Nauert’s inexperience in foreign affairs and diplomacy, especially compared with most of the former US ambassadors to the UN. Samantha Power, Haley’s immediate predecessor, served on Obama’s National Security Council, among other roles in the White House and outside it. Haley was a former governor of South Carolina, who was also was a state legislator. She, too, had minimal foreign affairs experience other than negotiating trade deals with a few foreign automakers.
One former US ambassador who worked in the Middle East referred to Nauert as someone who John Bolton, the US national security adviser, “didn’t have to worry about” in the post at the UN — that Nauert would not be as contradictory as Haley could be on White House foreign policy.
The diplomat added that the nomination of a former “talking head from Fox News” revealed a “complete disregard for the Security Council.”
Another official who worked in the early months of the Trump presidency said that Nauert, who may be unlikely to be granted Cabinet status if she wins the nomination, will lack the same clout that Haley had wielded in the Oval Office. Nauert is not a political expert in the vein of Haley nor is she as aggressive as Haley, the official noted, which will enable Bolton to wrestle for more control of the US at the UN.
If Nauert is cleared by the committee, her nomination is sent to the full Senate for a simple-majority vote.
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.