Trump chooses SC Gov Nikki Haley to be ambassador to UN

Nikki Haley
FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2016 file photo, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks to the crowd at the Kemp Forum, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. Two fresh faces in the Republican Party, Haley House Speaker Paul Ryan are offering messages of openness and diversity that could answer the GOP establishment’s increasingly desperate search for an antidote to the loud pronouncements of presidential front-runner Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump has chosen South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the first woman tapped for a top-level administration post during his White House transition so far.

It will be a Cabinet-level position, and Haley has accepted, Trump said in a statement Wednesday.

“Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in the release. “She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”

Haley, an outspoken Trump critic throughout much of the presidential race, would become his first female — and first minority — Cabinet-level official if confirmed by the Senate. She’s the daughter of Indian immigrants and is the second Asian-American to serve as a U.S. governor.

While Haley has limited foreign policy experience, Trump said he was impressed with her knowledge of global affairs.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham praised Haley as a good choice and said in a statement that he looks forward to working with her on “overdue reforms of the United Nations.” Graham is chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Operations Subcommittee on Appropriations, which is responsible for funding the UN and all American foreign assistance.

Haley said she accepted the assignment partly out of “a sense of duty.”

“When the president believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation’s standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed,” she said in a statement.

Not all presidents have treated the ambassadorship to the U.N. as a Cabinet-level position, and Republicans have tended not to grant that status.

After secretary of state — a job Trump has not yet filled — the UN ambassador is the highest-profile diplomatic position, often serving as the voice for U.S. positions on the international stage. As part of the Cabinet, Haley would have more opportunity to shape U.S. policies, rather than simply defend the administration’s positions.

Yet it could be an awkward role at times. Trump campaigned on the theme of “America first” and said he is skeptical about “international unions that tie us up and bring America down.” Trump has also described the United Nations as weak and incompetent.

Haley would be the third consecutive female U.S. ambassador to the UN, after Susan Rice and Samantha Power, the current ambassador.

Haley’s new job clears the way for Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster to step into the role of South Carolina governor. McMaster was an early Trump endorser, backing him before the state’s GOP primary in February.

At the time, Haley campaigned for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, before going on to support Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Bad blood between Trump and Haley was evident in interviews and on social media. “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” Trump wrote on Twitter in March. Haley denounced several of Trump’s campaign comments and urged voters to “reject the siren call of the angriest voices.”

However, Haley met with the president-elect last week at Trump Tower. Afterward, she said they’d had a “very nice” conversation.

A week ago while meeting with other Republican governors in Orlando, Haley described herself as “giddy” over the prospect of joining the Trump administration. She said she was heartened by his tone and inclusiveness after winning the election. “I hope he continues to do that, and I hope he continues to be disciplined in his comments.”

Trump is spending Thanksgiving with his family at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

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Associated Press writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report from Tallahassee.

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