President Trump may be making his debut at the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, but in many ways, this is Nikki Haley’s week.
The U.S. ambassador to the UN has pulled her weight over the last eight months, becoming one of the most powerful women in the Trump administration. And there’s little doubt that her role in Trump’s Cabinet will keep elevating her profile as a Republican.
Early in her political career, Haley was branded a “rising star” in the Republican party — code for potential presidential candidate. She’s been coy about her future, even though Democratic operatives are reportedly already working on research about her for 2020.
Here’s what you need to know about Haley ahead of the UN General Assembly this week:
Why you should keep an eye on her
Haley, 45, has become the public face of the U.S. foreign policy — even more so than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (She has denied recent reports that she might replace him.)
Whether she will become the next secretary of state in the near future, or will make a White House bid at some point down the line, remains to be seen. Haley is clearly no stranger to evolving and adapting to her environment (she has said Hillary Clinton inspired her to get into politics), and with the current challenges in foreign affairs (ahem, North Korea), we should expect to see more of her and not less.
She’s an interesting politician
Truth be told, no one expected Haley to become UN ambassador. When her name was thrown around as a candidate for secretary of state last November, eyebrows everywhere were raised. Haley, then the governor of South Carolina, had no foreign policy experience. When Trump asked her to take the role, she declined the offer. But then she was asked whether she wanted the role of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and she agreed.
Haley is full of contradictions. She might seem like a cookie-cutter Republican now, but came to power by branding herself as being on the side of the Tea Party. The right-wing movement helped her become South Carolina’s governor, and the first female and first Indian-American governor in the state.
Haley was an accountant before entering politics. She’s fiscally conservative and also socially conservative: She’s pro-life, supports voter ID laws, is pro-school choice and supports charter schools, wants immigration laws to be more strictly enforced, among other issues. But Haley has shown some moderate positions on a few occasions. For example, during her time as governor she opposed a South Carolina “bathroom bill” and took down the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds after the Charleston church shooting in 2015.
And she’s somewhat of an anomaly in the Republican party: She’s a woman of color in a party that hasn’t had a great track record of championing women of color (and some on the left believe she’s not a champion for women of color either). She is young by politician standards, yet she’s become a prominent face for the party. And for her supporters, she embodies that traditional idea of femininity. (Haley has said in the past that she wears heels as “ammunition,” and is a dedicated mother of two.) But they also like that she’s commanding and fierce in defending her positions when necessary.
In an administration known for its blunders, she’s been doing her job
Haley supported Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz’s bids for president, and remained consistently anti-Trump up until the 2016 presidential election. With her current role, she’s facing the challenge of carving out space for herself on the national (and international) political stage without upsetting President Trump.
For the most part, she’s doing her job and is doing it well. Her role of ambassador is tricky in an administration where the main message is “America First,” and translating what that means to the global diplomatic community.
After Charlottesville, Haley said she had a “personal” conversation with President Trump about his reaction to the violence. The implication is that she has his ear, but that’s something we might be able to confirm this week.
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