President Trump said Thursday that Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, is a leading contender to replace Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, adding that he may reach a decision next week in the latest shuffle of his top aides.
“She’s under very serious consideration,” Trump told reporters after a speech on immigration at the White House.
"She's excellent,” he added. “She's been with us a long time. She's been a supporter a long time."
Trump met with Nauert, 48, on Monday in the Oval Office. A former Fox News anchor and ABC news correspondent, she has no diplomatic experience and rarely delved deeply into policy details as the voice for the State Department, often deferring to the White House.
When Rex Tillerson led the State Department for the first year of the Trump administration, Nauert often seemed excluded from his inner circle. She never accompanied him on his flights around the world. In the view of some diplomats, she was seen as loyal first and foremost to the White House.
After Trump fired Tillerson in March and appointed former CIA Director Michael R. Pompeo to the job, Nauert’s role and proximity to power grew. She is frequently at Pompeo’s side and has accompanied him on trips as far flung as North Korea and Mexico City.
Fox News reported that Trump had offered Nauert the job but that she had not yet accepted it. Sources at the State Department suggested that Trump had sounded her out but not made a formal offer.
Nauert’s selection would not be a surprise. Her name had surfaced along with other administration political appointees, including Jamie McCourt, the U.S. ambassador to France and former owner, with her husband, Frank McCourt, of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
When she joined the administration in April 2017, Nauert left her husband and two young sons at home in New York City. Returning to New York, where the United Nations is located, may appeal to her.
She has not appeared at the State Department briefing podium for the last two weeks, allowing a deputy, Robert Palladino, to lead press briefings.
Nauert cemented her loyalty to Trump early last year before she joined the State Department. After retailer Nordstrom dropped Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, citing poor sales, Nauert tweeted that designs by the president’s older daughter are “lovely, well made” and vowed to wear a pair of her high heels on TV, according to Bloomberg. The tweet was later deleted.
Haley, a former governor of South Carolina and a rising Republican star, announced Oct. 9 that she would leave the United Nations at the end of 2018 after two years as ambassador. She is considered a possible future presidential candidate, but has said she will not run in 2020.
Haley won praise at the White House for her skillful if sometimes brash diplomacy. She helped strengthen U.N. sanctions on North Korea, but alienated other diplomats by condemning the Iran nuclear deal, which the Security Council had approved in 2015, and speaking in favor of Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem.
On Thursday, she unsuccessfully argued against the annual General Assembly vote to condemn the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. The vote was 189 to 2, with only Israel siding with the United States.
Haley saw her own influence shrink as Pompeo took over the State Department, and John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was named Trump’s national security advisor. The two effectively took charge of foreign policy, leaving Haley as an outsider.
Bolton, who once called for lopping off the top floor of the U.N. headquarters, appears eager to downgrade the ambassadorial position there to reflect his conviction that the global body is irrelevant.
At the State Department, Nauert has hewed closely to White House positions. She has refused to endorse the so-called two-state solution as a potential way out of the Middle East crisis, a shift from previous administrations. She often deflects grilling on touchy topics, such as the U.S.-backed Saudi air war in Yemen, by calling on reporters she can count on for softball questions.
Nauert’s appointment would further cement Trump’s affinity for Fox News. He is a devoted consumer of the network’s shows that are most favorable to him, and has given more interviews to Fox personalities than to any other network.