During an address to an annual charity dinner in New York on Thursday night, outgoing U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, recalled the first time President Trump learned of her heritage.
“When the president found out that I was Indian American, he asked if I was from the same tribe as Elizabeth Warren,” she quipped, referencing the Democratic senator from Massachusetts who released a DNA test this week that showed she has a distant Native American ancestor.
And so it went during Haley’s 17-minute speech to the 73rd Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. She not only poked fun at her boss — who was a repeated target — and Warren, a potential 2020 rival of his. She also took jabs at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and convicted Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Haley recounted that as she prepared for the dinner — hosted by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and attended by the state’s political elites — Trump gave her some advice.
“He said if I get stuck for laughs, just brag about his accomplishments,” Haley said. “It really killed at the U.N., I got to tell you.”
That was a reference to an embarrassing moment last month when Trump boasted in an address to the United Nations General Assembly that his administration had accomplished more in two years than “almost any administration” in American history, prompting laughter in the chamber.
Haley, who served as governor of South Carolina before joining the Trump administration, also recalled her upbringing as a minority in the Palmetto State.
“People always wonder if I felt different or isolated as an Indian American growing up in rural South Carolina. Actually, there was a benefit,” she said. “It totally prepared me for being a Republican in New York.”
Haley said she had seen Sessions, Trump’s embattled attorney general, earlier in the day.
“Not in New York,” she added. “I saw him on LinkedIn looking for a job. Actually, we both were.”
She made note of another no-show at the dinner.
“Jeff Flake was going to be here, but he wanted to give the FBI a week to look into it,” Haley said, referring to the senator’s call for a week-long delay in the Senate confirmation process for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct when he was in high school.
Haley also said she is looking forward to Halloween, taking jabs at both Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a rock-ribbed conservative.
“I am still someone who gets very excited about Halloween,” Haley said, “but in this toxic environment, even this causes political arguments. Bernie Sanders wants free candy for everyone. Mitch McConnell calls it a typical Democrat giveaway program. The president says it’s going to be the best Halloween ever — nothing like it ever before, huge!”
Speaking of her job, which she plans to leave in January, Haley noted that many of the U.N. member nations are often angry with the United States.
“With all of our differences, there is still one thing that unites all 193 countries,” she said. “At one point, every single one of them was paying Paul Manafort.”
Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who was convicted in August on tax- and bank-fraud charges, had a lucrative lobbying career representing foreign interests.
Amid the jokes, Haley, who still might have a political future ahead of her, also relayed a sobering message about the riled state of politics in the United States — which some interpreted as criticism of Trump.
“In our toxic political environment, I’ve heard some people in both parties describe their opponents as enemies or evil,” Haley said. “In America, our political opponents are not evil. In South Sudan, where rape is routinely used as a weapon of war — that is evil. In Syria, where the dictator uses chemical weapons to murder innocent children — that is evil. In North Korea, where American student Otto Warmbier was tortured to death — that was evil.”
“In the last two years, I’ve seen true evil,” Haley continued. “We have some serious political differences here at home. But our opponents are not evil. They’re just our opponents.”