The Senate confirmed Kelly Knight Craft on Wednesday to serve as President Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, in a vote that fell largely along party lines with leading Democrats saying she lacks the necessary qualifications.
Craft succeeds Trump’s first U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, who left the administration at the end of December. She served previously as U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Throughout her confirmation process, Craft struggled to allay Democrats’ concerns about her family’s significant investments in the fossil fuel industry, though notably she separated herself from the president on climate change. During her confirmation hearing in June, Craft declared that she believes fossil fuels and human behavior contribute to the planet’s shifting weather phenomena. “Let there be no doubt,” she said.
She also pushed back against Democrats’ accusations that she had spent too much time away from her post in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, arguing that her travel throughout the country and elsewhere had been approved and that many of her trips were to negotiate and promote Trump’s new North American trade deal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Craft on the Senate floor before Wednesday’s vote, calling her an “impressive nominee” who had represented the United States by “skillfully and effectively advocating” for its interests, even during challenges that threatened trade negotiations.
“By all accounts,” he said, “Ambassador Craft’s involvement led to greater cooperation.”
The vote’s final count was 56 to 34. Only five Democrats — Sens. Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — endorsed Craft’s confirmation. Eight other Democrats, including the seven participating in this week’s 2020 presidential primary debates in Detroit, missed the vote along with two Republicans.
The vote to confirm Craft reflects far deeper partisan divisions over her appointment than existed in the Senate for Haley, who was confirmed in January 2017 by a vote of 96 to 4.
Trump’s initial choice to succeed Haley, former Fox News journalist Heather Nauert, withdrew from consideration in February amid reports that she and her husband, years prior, employed a nanny who was not approved to work in the United States. Jonathan Cohen has served as acting ambassador since Haley’s departure.
In the hours before the vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, Robert Menendez (N.J.), released a report on Craft stating that her “qualifications fall short: she does not have the knowledge, skills, qualifications, or experience to successfully lead the United States’ efforts at the United Nations.”
Complaints in the report mirror many of the issues over which Craft and Democrats clashed at her confirmation hearing. Among them are that she “displayed a lack of depth on basic foreign policy issues,” such as the two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories, and that “she merely repeated talking points” on developing crises such as Iran.
The Democrats’ report also repeated concerns about Craft’s travel while ambassador to Canada, pointing out that she spent about seven months of her two-year stint in Kentucky or Oklahoma, where she and her husband have homes. They also complained that she did not seem to have a full understanding of her husband’s investments, and said her promise to recuse herself from negotiations and meetings related to coal — while agreeing only to look into doing the same for other fossil fuels — was unsatisfactory.
Spokesmen for the State Department and National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Generally speaking, Craft is expected to uphold most of the policy positions Trump has espoused, even when it puts her into conflict with senators, Republican or Democrat.
During her confirmation hearing, she defended Trump’s decision to reduce payments to the U.N. and pull out of bodies like the U.N. Human Rights Council, stating that the international organization’s “ambitions at times have gotten ahead of accountability” and that “w aste and overlap remain problems. ”
She also promised she would respect the findings of the United Nations’ investigation into Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.