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Who is Nikki Haley, Trump's pick for ambassador to the UN?

The South Carolina governor, a GOP establishment favorite who opposed Trump's rhetoric on immigration, has little foreign affairs experience.

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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, September 2, 2015.

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President-elect Donald Trump has chosen South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to be the US ambassador to the United Nations, making her the first outspoken opponent of his campaign – as well as the first woman and first non-white person – to get a top-level post in the new administration.

Mr. Trump cited her “proven track record of bringing people together” in a statement accompanying the governor’s declaration that she would accept the nomination, which will go before the Senate for confirmation, Reuters reports.

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It’s unclear exactly how much sway she’ll have in the new administration – the Associated Press notes that not every president treats the UN ambassadorship as a cabinet-level position, with Republican presidents especially disinclined to do so – but her nomination breaks with a string of far-right figures whose views align with Trump’s on the animating issues of immigration and civil rights.

Governor Haley was an early campaigner for Florida Gov. Marco Rubio and, later, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and she has criticized Trump for failing to roundly condemn the white nationalists who have supported his candidacy. Last month, she said she would vote for Trump, despite reservations about his character. The ambassadorial post would be an added notch in the belt of a lawmaker whose name had been in the mix of possible vice presidential picks. 

She has also served at times as the face of a more minority-friendly GOP, signing a bill last year that removed the Confederate flag from atop the South Carolina state capitol and garnering praise for her handling of the 2015 murders of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston. In January, the GOP tapped her to give a rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union, in a speech that championed America’s multi-ethnic identity and rebuked Trump’s proposal of a ban on Muslim immigrants. 

“No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country,” she said then, adding that “properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of religion” should be allowed into the United States.

In fact, much of that speech, noted The Christian Science Monitor’s Linda Feldman, struck a tone remarkably consistent with that of Mr. Obama. 

“Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” said Haley, who invoked her own upbringing in rural South Carolina as the daughter of Indian parents.

“Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That's just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.”

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Her criticism of Trump at times drew his fire: that same month, he called her “weak on illegal immigration” and “big on amnesty.” They were on better terms prior to his presidential campaign: as The Post and Courier notes, Trump contributed $5,000 to a pro-Haley group in 2012.

Haley's nomination is also unusual for her lack of experience as a federal official. The ambassador to the UN is typically a State Department or National Security Council veteran, while the governor’s experience is limited to her seven overseas trade missions and negotiations with foreign companies seeking development deals in South Carolina.

This article contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.


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