The announcement on Tuesday that Nikki Haley soon plans to step down as ambassador to the United Nations underscores the degree to which President Trump has surrounded himself with advisors willing to press his nationalist “America first” agenda, leaving her on the periphery of policymaking.
Haley’s departure, effective at the end of the year, is yet another sign that Trump is feeling freer to act more boldly, even unilaterally, as many of the administration officials he believed were trying to thwart him in his first year have been replaced by men with Trump’s trust, notably Michael R. Pompeo and John Bolton.
Though the announcement caught many in the administration by surprise, Trump said Haley told him six months ago that she planned to leave after serving two years in the post. He said he would name a successor within the next two or three weeks.
Their earlier discussion about her exit plans would roughly coincide with a period of staff changes that diminished Haley’s clout within the administration, when Trump appointed Pompeo as secretary of State and Bolton as national security advisor. Both men have larger personalities, more aggressive policy agendas and closer ties to Trump than their predecessors, Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster, respectively.
Haley has had to run issues by the two men before going public. Previously, she had enjoyed relative autonomy. It was also widely rumored at the time that she had wanted the secretary of State job, and there was considerable tension between her and Pompeo — and even more with Bolton.
Speculation immediately swirled on whom Trump will appoint as Haley’s replacement. Though Trump praised his daughter Ivanka Trump’s qualifications, he said that choosing her would invite controversy; she later tweeted she would not replace Haley. Late Tuesday, the president told reporters on Air Force One that he had a short list of five candidates, including Dina Powell, his former deputy national security advisor, who reportedly spent the weekend with Haley.
He said he would consider Richard Grenell, current ambassador to Germany, but that Grenell is not on the list and he’d “rather keep Ric where he is.” Grenell has antagonized allies in Europe, openly supporting right-wing parties there.
Trump could also choose to appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Haley lavishly praised Kushner and Ivanka Trump during her exit remarks, asserting that Kushner has been a “hidden genius that no one understands” as an advisor to the president on trade and Middle East policy.
With Bolton gaining prominence, the U.N. ambassadorship may be downgraded below Cabinet level, making the lines of authority clearer. Bolton detests the U.N. and most global institutions.
Trump effusively praised Haley, telling reporters, “She’s done a fantastic job, and we’ve done a fantastic job together.” He said he’d be happy to have her back in another position.
Haley made clear she wants to make more money. In her resignation letter, dated Oct. 3, she told Trump that “as a businessman, I expect you will appreciate my sense that returning from government to the private sector is not a step down but a step up.”
Her personal financial disclosure form reveals two credit card debts — one ranging between $15,001 and $50,000 and another ranging from $10,001 and $15,000 — as well as a line of credit between $250,001 and $500,000.
Haley’s announcement marked a rare example of a senior Trump administration official making a graceful exit. The president said she brought glamour and prestige to the position. He allowed her to address reporters from the Oval Office, seated beside him in matching yellow chairs — a break from the abrupt tweets Trump often has used to announce staff changes.
Haley, in turn, thanked Trump and praised his wife, daughter and son-in-law before mentioning her own family. She also moved quickly to squelch speculation about her political ambitions.
“No, I am not running in 2020,” she said without being asked, adding she would campaign for Trump’s reelection.
Haley, who called herself a “lucky girl,” said she was leaving because she needed to take time out after an intense six years, four as governor of South Carolina followed by two tumultuous years at the U.N.
She has served at the U.N. since the start of Trump’s presidency. In her first year she benefited enormously from the vacuum left by Tillerson, veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller said in a tweet: “Now with Pompeo and Bolton around the job is no longer fun.”
Ian Bremmer, president of the analytical Eurasia Group, said Haley’s departure is a “big loss” for the administration. “Easily one of the most capable and successful appointees in the administration,” he tweeted.
With Trump beside her, Haley praised the effectiveness of his foreign policy efforts, which have drawn widespread criticism. “Now, the United States is respected,” she said. “Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do.”
A recent survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center showed public opinion toward the United States has plummeted in many countries since Trump took office.
Haley cited Trump’s tough trade policy and his decisions to leave the multinational Iran nuclear deal and to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which infuriated many allies and regional partners. Trump, she said, is “showing the rest of the world we will put our embassy where we want to put our embassy.”
She also took credit for cutting the U.S. contribution to the U.N. budget, characterizing it as a move toward more efficiency.
Haley achieved a rare feat in the administration, maintaining her personal popularity despite the president's polarizing politics. An April Quinnipiac University poll found 63% of voters approved of her job performance, compared with 17% who disapproved. That included a majority, 55%, of Democrats.
The 46-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants has been viewed as a rising star within the Republican Party and is widely believed to harbor ambitions for higher office. During the 2016 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Haley endorsed one of Trump’s party primary opponents, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Trump recalled their past differences but said he’d become close to Haley.
Establishment Republicans, many of them suspicious of Trump’s “America first” approach, have tended to give her the benefit of the doubt, even as she carries out his agenda. They are pleased, for example, that she has been more outspoken against Russia than Trump.
“Nikki Haley has been a clear, consistent and powerful voice for America’s interests and democratic principles on the world stage,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a tweet. “She challenged friend and foe to be better. I am saddened that she is leaving the administration, but so grateful for her service.”
Haley sometimes used less-than-diplomatic language when she spoke at the U.N. — whether to scold the body for what she called an anti-Israel bias, to threaten to “take names” of countries that oppose American policy toward Israel, or to threaten Syria with attack if President Bashar Assad again attacked his people with chemical weapons.
“If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded,” she said at the Security Council in April.
That same month, Haley got into a public spat with the White House when she went on television to announce new sanctions against Russia. Trump balked at imposing them, and his senior economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, then went before cameras to say that Haley must have been “confused.”
“I don't get confused,” Haley snapped back.
It was her public loyalty to Trump that kept her in his good graces. When the New York Times recently published an anonymous opinion piece on “resistance” to the president from within, claiming he occasionally acts impulsively against the country’s best interests, Haley quickly responded in the Washington Post, in part to deflect any suggestions that she wrote the Times piece.
She defended Trump and said that when she has disagreements, she goes to Trump in person.