President Donald Trump on Friday said he would nominate State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations as he seeks to push his “American First” agenda forward.
If confirmed by the Senate, the nomination would elevate a foreign policy novice into the top echelons of U.S. diplomacy as the Trump administration ramps up pressure against Iran and demands that allies take on more responsibility for their own security.
Nauert joined the State Department last year after a career as an anchor and correspondent at Fox News with no government experience. She would replace Nikki Haley, who was twice elected governor of South Carolina but lacked foreign policy experience.
In her new role, Nauert would be responsible for maintaining international support for economic sanctions against North Korea and continuing the Trump administration's strong support for Israel in the face of mounting scrutiny at the United Nations.
A former news reporter for ABC, Nauert joined Fox in 1996, originally as a correspondent and later as a co-host for "Fox and Friends." Trump is one of the show's biggest fans, and he often finds inspiration in the hosts' remarks as topics for his morning tweets.
Nauert, who left Fox in April 2017, earned a reputation as a stalwart defender of the president even through the turbulent tenure of Trump's first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
She and the Texas oilman never established a close working relationship. She did not accompany him on overseas trips or participate in his meetings with foreign dignitaries, and aides confided it was largely because he considered her a White House loyalist with particularly close ties to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Nauert's first year on the job was frustrating, and she began to emerge only after Trump fired Tillerson by tweet. She marked her first anniversary in the position during her first foreign trip with a secretary of state, going to Toronto with John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state who was acting as secretary until Mike Pompeo was confirmed.
Under Pompeo, whose foreign policy views more closely align with Trump's than Tillerson's did, Nauert became part of the inner circle. They met regularly, and she usually traveled with Pompeo on trips abroad. He elevated her to undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, a job vacated by Steve Goldstein who was fired along with Tillerson.
Nauert could not be reached for comment
Critics of the administration were quick to pounce on her nomination as prizing loyalty over experience.
"While Nikki Haley didn't bring foreign policy experience, she ran a state," said Brett Bruen, a former State Department official. "Nauert's performance as acting undersecretary of state was notable for its lack of accomplishments or even attention to job. It does not present a compelling case, nor engender confidence in the Senate that she is ready for a such a senior position."
A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel decisions, said Nauert would be "an outstanding advocate for the American people at the U.N."
"She's hardworking, she's smart and she never gives up in advancing an agenda that works for the United States," the official said.
Nauert is the latest transplant from Fox News to be elevated to a senior Trump administration job following the addition of Fox News executive Bill Shine as a top communications adviser. White House national security adviser John Bolton also worked as a Fox News contributor.
When Haley announced her plans to resign in early October, Trump praised her accomplishments.
"She's done a fantastic job, and we've done a fantastic job together," he said during a meeting with Haley at the Oval Office. "She's a fantastic person, very importantly, but she also is somebody that gets it."
“It was a blessing to go into the U.N. with body armor every day and defend America,” Haley replied. “And I’ll always do that; I’ll never truly step aside from fighting for our country. But I will tell you that I think it’s time.”