Haley Resignation Prompts Speculation About Motivation, Future Plans, Successor

By Patrick Goodenough | October 10, 2018 | 4:27 AM EDT

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks about her unexpected resignation in the Oval Office. (Photo: Screen capture/C-SPAN)

(CNSNews.com) – Nikki Haley’s decision to resign as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. at the end of President Trump’s first term stoked furious speculation Tuesday, as pundits of all types wondered about her “real” reason for leaving, her future plans, and likely successors.

The one key area of speculation Haley herself preemptively sought to quash was that she plans to mount a White House run in 2020.

Not only did she clearly rule that out while sitting alongside Trump at the White House, but in her letter of resignation – obtained by the Washington Post – she wrote that while she expects to “speak out from time to time on important public policy matters,” she has no plans to be a candidate in 2020 for “any office.”

The reason she gave for leaving – a decision she said she shared with Trump six months ago – was the fact she has gone through “eight years of intense times” as South Carolina governor and ambassador – “and I’m a believer in term limits.”

In her resignation letter Haley referred to returning to the “private sector.”

Speculation in the media about her actual reasons for leaving included a protest against Justice Brett Kavanaugh taking his seat on the Supreme Court.

“Haley’s decision to announce her resignation four weeks ahead of midterm congressional elections and immediately after a bruising Supreme Court confirmation battle that laid bare deep political faults on sex and gender led to questions about her timing,” opined CNN.

Pundits noted that Haley had said the woman who accused Kavanaugh of having sexually assaulted her during a high school party in the 1980s “deserves respect” and “deserves to be heard.”

Haley was not alone in the administration in taking that approach, however. White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway also said Christine Blasey Ford “should not be ignored and should not be insulted” but “should be heard.” (Conway also disclosed that she was herself a victim of sexual assault.)

Haley’s resignation letter was dated October 3, three days before the Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh.

700-plus days

Haley took office on January 27, 2017 and said in her letter she was prepared to remain in the post “until January 2019,” to allow for her successor’s nomination and Senate confirmation.

For a U.N. ambassador widely viewed as highly effective – a Quinnipiac poll in April found 63 percent job approval for Haley (higher than Defense Secretary James Mattis, then CIA Director Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and White House chief of staff John Kelly) – her decision to step down after “only” two years puzzled many.

President Trump and Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley take part in a meeting on reforming the U.N., at U.N. headquarters in New York on September 18, 2017. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

In fact, Haley’s term will not be unusually short for a U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

President Obama’s two envoys, Susan Rice and Samantha Power served relatively long terms (1,616 days and 1,264 days respectively) but most of those who served under the George W. Bush administration were in office for shorter periods than Haley will be if she stays until January 1 (704 days), or through the end of that month (733 days).

President Bush’s first ambassador, John Negroponte, would be the exception, at 1,008 days, but Zalmay Khalilzad served for 633 days and John Bolton (a recess appointment) for 516 days.

Among her predecessors most often cited by conservatives as great ambassadors to the world body, Haley’s term would fall somewhere between those of Daniel Patrick Moynihan (217 days), Bolton (516 days), and Jeane Kirkpatrick (1,517 days).

“Even by today’s low standards the baseless speculation from some journalists about potential reasons why Nikki Haley is resigning is stunning,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “Her predecessors served an average of a little over 2 years but let’s make something up anyway. Ridiculous.”

Some speculation forecast potential cabinet shuffling – specifically that Trump plans to fire Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, replace him with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, opening up his South Carolina seat for Haley.

‘How good would Ivanka be?’

Speaking to reporters before heading to Iowa for a campaign rally, Trump was asked about his daughter as a prospective successor to Haley.

“How good would Ivanka be?” he said. “The people that know, know that Ivanka would be dynamite. But you know I’d then be accused of nepotism, if you can believe it, right?”

“I think Ivanka would be incredible,” he added. “But that doesn’t mean I’d pick her because you’d be accused of nepotism. Even though I’m not sure there’s anybody more competent in the world, but that’s okay. We are looking at numerous people.”

Ivanka Trump herself then moved to cut short the speculation, tweeting, “It is an honor to serve in the White House alongside so many great colleagues and I know that the President will nominate a formidable replacement for Ambassador Haley. That replacement will not be me.”

Some media reports said White House officials had reached out to Dina Powell, Trump’s former deputy national security advisor for strategy. A Cairo-born Coptic-American, Powell spent much of her ten months in the post last year working on Mideast peace efforts.

Asked about Powell, Trump told reporters, “Dina’s certainly a person I would consider, and she’s under consideration.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley accompanies President Trump at U.N. headquarters in New York on September 18, 2017. (UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

“We have actually many names,” he said, adding that Haley would be “helping us with the choice.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told CNN retiring Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) would be “great” in the post.

Corker, who has clashed with Trump over foreign policy, said last May he had turned down a chance to become ambassador to Australia. That position has been vacant for two years.

Other names floated Tuesday included Richard Grenell, ambassador to Germany, who served as spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. during the Bush administration.

Grenell has made an impact since arriving in Berlin last May, successfully urging firms in Europe’s largest economy to stop doing business with Iran.

En route to Iowa, Trump told accompanying reporters he was considering five candidates. He did not name them, but did say Grenell was “doing so well” in Germany he would rather not move him.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the non-governmental organization UN Watch – and a Haley admirer – offered a different suggestion.

“Imagine if the next US Ambassador to the UN were Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz,” Neuer tweeted. “Few know more on the UN Charter, human rights, combating antisemitism. None is a more brilliant advocate or compelling speaker. UN tyrannies would live in dread.”

Trump said he would nominate Haley’s successor in two to three weeks’ time.


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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow