Nauert withdraws from Trump UN ambassador pick

Spokesperson Heather Nauert (L) speaks as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dialogues with reporters. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew from consideration as President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations, she said in a statement.

Nauert’s nomination began to falter after the White House was alerted to a problem in her background check: She had in the past employed an immigrant nanny who was in the US legally but wasn’t authorised to work, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The statement on Saturday night didn’t acknowledge the issue with Nauert’s nanny or any other specific problem with her nomination.

Nauert’s nanny issue became politically untenable — and would almost certainly have come out in her confirmation hearing — given that halting illegal migration was a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign and has animated his fight to build a wall on the border with Mexico. A day before Nauert withdrew, Trump declared a national emergency to secure more money for the proposed wall, after Congress approved only about US$1.4 billion in a spending deal.

“I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary Pompeo for the trust they placed in me for considering me for the position of US Ambassador to the United Nations,” Nauert said in the statement. “However, the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration.”

Trump began discussing potential new candidates for the UN post Saturday evening with his advisers, according to one person familiar with the matter.

Trump had said in early December that he planned to nominate Nauert, 49, to replace Nikki Haley as UN ambassador. Suspicion later mounted that her nomination was running into trouble because the White House never formally submitted her name for Senate confirmation, even after Haley resigned at year end.

State Department officials insisted there was nothing unusual in that delay, arguing that Attorney General William Barr’s nomination went more smoothly because he had already been confirmed once, in 1991. They also blamed the 35-day partial government shutdown and the complexity of the vetting process.

While Nauert struggled under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who kept her blocked from his inner circle, the former Fox News anchor built a rapport with current Secretary Michael Pompeo, who came to trust her as a reliable voice and advocate for Trump’s agenda.

Nauert was expected to face a thorny confirmation hearing given her lack of experience and the likelihood that she would be asked to answer for the Trump administration’s scorn for international bodies, including the UN. In a speech in Brussels in December, Pompeo made his doubts about the organisation clear, asking, “Does it continue to serve its mission faithfully?”

The president picked Nauert after considering other potential nominees including former White House aide Dina Powell, Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft, former US Senate candidate John James of Michigan and Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell — a favourite of National Security Adviser John Bolton.