South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to be UN ambassador, will question whether the US’s funding of the world body is worth it in her opening testimony Wednesday at her Senate confirmation hearing.
Haley is expected to rap the UN for its treatment of Israel and indicate that she thinks the US should reconsider its contribution of 22% of the annual budget.
“Are we getting what we pay for?” she asks in a copy of her opening statement obtained by CNN.
“The UN and its specialized agencies have had numerous successes,” Haley is set to say. “However, any honest assessment also finds an institution that is often at odds with American national interests and American taxpayers … I will take an outsider’s look at the institution.”
In her opening statement, Haley focuses largely on one international issue: Israel.
She said a December UN Security Council resolution that calls on Israel to stop settlement construction in Palestinian areas is “damaging” and a reflection of the UN’s “long-history of anti-Israel bias.” That resolution passed when the US abstained from voting.
“Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel,” Haley will say. “Last month’s passage of UN Resolution 2334 was a terrible mistake, making a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians harder to achieve.”
Haley is being introduced before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the driving force behind a bill to defund the UN for the December vote against Israel.
Saying that the UN is known for anti-Zionism, Haley will go on to say that “more Americans are becoming convinced … that the United Nations does more harm than good.”
The 45-year-old Haley is expected to be grilled about Russia’s global role and human rights, issues that tripped up Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO Trump tapped to be his lead US diplomat as secretary of state. Some Republicans and Democrats said they were ambivalent or flatly against Tillerson after his hearing last week and will likely return to those questions when Haley appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Haley may also face queries about the foreign policy differences between Trump and his proposed Cabinet members — Tillerson diverged from Trump on several key issues — support for an Asian trade deal, condemnation of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and affirmation of the reality of climate change.
Trump’s nominee to lead the Defense Department, Ret. Gen. James Mattis, has also staked out a considerably tougher position on Russia than the President-elect and a more supportive stance on NATO.
A Senate Democrat, speaking anonymously to discuss the nomination, said that just as the committee saw some gaps in foreign policy positions between Trump and Tillerson, they think they will see even greater ones emerge between Haley, Trump and Tillerson.
While Tillerson didn’t offer the responses some lawmakers wanted on human rights abuses in Russia and the Philippines, in private meetings with senators, Haley has “been much more forceful, saying some of those actions are war crimes, some of the actions are human rights abuses,” the Democrat said.
It remains to be seen, the Democrat added, how her vision comports with the President-elect’s foreign policy views.
Democrats will also ask the South Carolinian what approach Trump will take toward the UN. He has been dismissive of the New York-based institution, deriding it in a December tweet as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”
Haley has little foreign experience beyond state trade missions. Committee members are sure to quiz the UN ambassador-designate on her qualifications for a job that requires intense interaction with diplomats from around the world on a roster of complicated issues.
“Diplomacy itself is not new to me,” Haley is set to say in her opening remarks. “In fact, I would suggest there is nothing more important to a governor’s success than her ability to unite those with different backgrounds, viewpoints and objectives behind a common purpose.”
She adds, “I will be a strong voice for American principles and American interests, even if that is not what other UN representatives want to hear. The time has come for American strength once again.”
An official with the Trump transition team said that Haley has experience that would translate well to the UN job.
“While Gov. Haley has limited international diplomatic experience, she is not inexperienced when it comes to diplomatic skill,” the Trump official said. “As governor, she has been highly adept at uniting those with different backgrounds and viewpoints behind a common purpose. During her tenure, she has done so successfully amid times of both great celebration and tragedy.”
But Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Haley Tuesday and noted afterward how little Haley knows about world affairs.
“It’s a huge portfolio,” he said of the UN job. “To be Ambassador to the UN means literally to have to understand the interests and priorities, the concerns of over 190 nations. I understand she would have a steep learning curve, but I think the UN is a place where we can’t afford to have an Ambassador who is learning on the job.”
Haley’s life, to date, has been rooted in South Carolina, where she was born and educated as the child of Sikh immigrants. She graduated from Clemson University with a degree in accounting, worked at her mother’s clothing company and immersed herself in local Republican politics.
She won an election for the South Carolina House of Representative in 2004, holding that position until she was elected governor in 2010, becoming the first woman to lead the state and the second Indian-American governor in the country.