President Donald Trump talks with U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft, prior to departing for his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump on Friday night announced he will nominate current Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft as his next United Nations ambassador.
“Kelly has done an outstanding job representing our Nation and I have no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level,” Trump wrote on Twitter. Story Continued Below
The announcement came about an hour after the president met face-to-face with Craft along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton in the Oval Office to finalize the nomination, according to a source familiar with the conversation.
If confirmed, Craft would fill a vacancy left after Nikki Haley resigned from the post last year and State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew from consideration over the weekend.
Though the president was considering a number of potential nominees, including the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, and former Michigan Senate candidate John James, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell took the unusual step this week of personally recommending Craft for the position during a phone call with Trump — a move that tipped the scales in her favor.
Within the administration, beyond McConnell’s suggestion that he will ease her Senate confirmation, the fact that Craft had recently been confirmed by the Senate also worked in her favor.
Craft, a Kentucky native, is the wife of billionaire coal baron Joe Craft, who has donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, and the couple served on the finance committee for Trump’s inaugural. Joe Craft donated more than $1.6 million since 2011 to campaigns and super PACs connected to McConnell, who praised the nomination as an “exceptional choice.”
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During an interview with POLITICO on Thursday, Craft did not rule out interest in the post.
“I am committed to serving the president,” Craft said. “I am committed at the moment to Canada.”
The nomination comes amid growing frustration among U.S. allies about Trump’s actions on the world stage. His seemingly shaky commitment to NATO, his abrupt efforts to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and his attempts to wreck what’s left of the Iran nuclear deal have unnerved many longtime allies in Europe.
The U.N. position is also key to administration’s current efforts to oust Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and convince North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons.
Craft’s stock with Trump rose during the negotiations for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a top priority for the president after he repeatedly denounced its predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump is now in the process of pushing Congress to ratify the USCMA deal.
Craft could also help deflect criticism that the Trump administration lacks women in top roles. Haley tweeted her congratulations to Craft shortly after the president’s announcement on Friday, writing, “Congratulations to Kelly Craft. She’s done a great job representing us as @USAmbCanada and we know she’ll be a strong voice for America at the United Nations. #USstrong”
Craft has spent her time in Canada networking on the Ottawa social scene to try and maintain a normally cordial relationship that has been tested by Trump’s bellicose approach to trade negotiations.
Canadians were so infuriated by national-security steel tariffs Trump slapped on the country that even some members of the Ottawa press gallery boycotted a July 4th party at Craft’s official residence.
The two countries have also snipped back and forth over foreign policy, with Trump chafing at what he perceived to be rude treatment from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the G-7 summit.
A snapshot of Craft’s challenges in serving a president with a practically subterranean approval rating in Canada — recorded as low as 11 percent — was illustrated at an event she hosted last September. The ambassador had invited the local press to her home for a goodwill-building happy hour event. But she wound up having to retreat to work in the midst of the gathering when phones started buzzing with news that Trump was publicly trashing Canada’s government and professing his distaste for the country’s foreign minister.
But her enthusiasm for reaching out to people at a moment’s notice has come in handy.
Canada’s ambassador to Washington, David MacNaughton, said she was helpful in frequently relaying high-level messages between the U.S. and Canada as they navigated the NAFTA negotiations.
MacNaughton also recalled an instance last fall, when the Canadians were struggling to bring in a top-level guest to a long-planned event at the Washington embassy on regulatory cooperation. Craft got on the phone to White House official Mick Mulvaney.
“Within 24 hours he confirmed his attendance,” MacNaughton told POLITICO. “She used to do stuff like that all the time. … She’s been a good friend to Canada and a good friend of mine. … I’m sorry to see her go.”
Still, Craft will likely received pointed questions during her confirmation hearing about remarks she has made on climate change, saying in an interview, “I believe there are scientists on both sides that are accurate.”
Before becoming ambassador to Canada, Craft served as an alternate delegate to the U.N. during George W. Bush’s administration.
Pompeo called Craft an “outstanding advocate for America’s national security and economic interests in Canada,” adding that “she is extremely well-qualified to do the same at the United Nations.”
“Kelly Craft is a strong advocate for American interests and will be a powerful representative of our great nation at the U.N,” McConnell said in a statement. “She has a long record of service to her state and the nation and I’m confident she will continue to serve with distinction as America’s voice to the world at the United Nations.”
Rebecca Morin contributed to this report.
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