Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, intensified the Trump administration’s feud with the U.N. on Thursday, sharply criticizing a new report on extreme poverty in the United States as “misleading and politically motivated” and questioning the very idea that the U.N. Human Rights Council would investigate poverty in America.
The report, written by Philip Alston, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, examines inequality in the United States and condemns President Trump’s administration for pursuing high tax breaks for the rich and removing basic protections for the poor.
“Poverty is an issue the Trump administration takes very seriously,” Haley wrote in a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of 20 lawmakers who urged the Trump administration to present Congress with a plan to reduce poverty across the nation. “The administration’s overarching view is that the best way to help people get out of poverty is to help them get a job.”
It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America.
Rather than focus on the United States, which Haley noted has its lowest unemployment rate in decades, the former governor of South Carolina said Alston should have used his voice “to shine a light” on vulnerable populations in countries such as Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America,” Haley wrote. “In our country, the President, Members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and City Council members actively engage on poverty issues every day. Compare that to the many countries around the world, whose governments knowingly abuse human rights and cause pain and suffering.”
Haley’s remarks came two days after she announced the U.S. was pulling out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, criticizing it as “protector of human rights abusers and a cesspit of political bias.”
Alston, a native Australian and law professor at New York University, published his report June 1 after touring California, Alabama, Puerto Rico and West Virginia at the end of last year.
“The American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion,” Alston states in the report. “The equality of opportunity, which is so prized in theory, is in practice a myth, especially for minorities and women, but also for many middle-class white workers.”
Alston was scheduled to present his report Thursday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. Shortly before it was set to begin, he tweeted that the event was postponed until Friday.
On Twitter, he said he looked forward to responding in the Human Rights Council.
“Too bad the U.S. won’t be there,” he added.
In her letter, Haley said she was “deeply disappointed” that Alston used his platform to make “misleading and politically motivated” statements about American domestic policy.
“Regrettably, his report is an all too common example of the misplaced priorities and poor use of funds proven to be rampant throughout the U.N. system,” she wrote.
While Haley said Alston “categorically misstated the progress the United States has made in addressing poverty and purposely used misleading facts and figures in its biased reporting,” she did not specify what facts the Trump administration disputed.
Sanders responded swiftly to Haley’s letter Thursday, writing that he considered it “totally appropriate” for the U.N. special rapporteur to focus on poverty in the United States. He noted that more than 40 million Americans still live in poverty, 30 million have no health insurance, and 140 million struggle to pay for basic living expenses.
“You are certainly right in suggesting that poverty in many countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi is far worse than it is in the United States,” Sanders wrote. “But what is important to note about poverty in America is that it takes place in the richest country in the history of the world.”
In an interview with The Times early this month, Alston anticipated that U.S. officials would not appreciate his report.
“The United States is a proud nation,” he said. “I don’t think that it will particularly appreciate being given such a poor report card before the international community. But I would very much like it if the U.S., when I present the report on June 21 to the Human Rights Council, would come out and try to defend its policies. I think that would be a very helpful step in getting serious debate going.”
Jarvie is a special correspondent.