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Trump announces nomination of Kelly Knight Craft to be ambassador to United Nations

Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft speaks after presenting her credentials during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Oct. 23, 2017.
Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft speaks after presenting her credentials during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Oct. 23, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/AP)

President Trump announced Friday evening that he will nominate Kelly Knight Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada and a major Republican donor, to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Craft is set to succeed Nikki Haley, pending Senate confirmation, and is Trump’s second pick to replace Haley, who left the U.N. post at the end of last year. The president’s first candidate, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew from consideration last week.

Trump praised Craft’s tenure at the embassy in Ottawa as “outstanding” as he made the announcement on Twitter.

“I am pleased to announce that Kelly Knight Craft, our current Ambassador to Canada, is being nominated to be United States Ambassador to the United Nations,” Trump wrote. “Kelly has done an outstanding job representing our Nation and I have no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level. Congratulations to Kelly and her entire family!

At a hearing in July 2017, Kelly Knight Craft, now President Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke of growing up far from D.C. (Video: C-SPAN)

Trump had announced Nauert as his pick in December, but she was never formally nominated. She cited family concerns in withdrawing from consideration. People familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Nauert had employed a nanny who was in the country legally but was not authorized to work in the United States.

Trump considered a number of candidates this week for the prestigious ambassadorship, including Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany.

If confirmed, Craft is unlikely to hold the same Cabinet-level rank that Haley had made a condition of taking the job. Without that rank, the next U.N. ambassador is not likely to attend as many White House meetings as Haley did and may be less influential.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed Craft’s selection. “Ambassador Craft has been an outstanding advocate for America’s national security and economic interests in Canada and she is extremely well-qualified to do the same at the United Nations,” Pompeo said in a statement Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said he recommended Craft, a fellow Kentuckian, was quick to celebrate her selection and called it “an exceptional choice for this critical post.”

“Kelly Craft is a strong advocate for American interests and will be a powerful representative of our great nation at the U.N.,” McConnell said in a statement. “She has a long record of service to her state and the nation and I’m confident she will continue to serve with distinction as America’s voice to the world at the United Nations.”

Craft, 56, was a business executive and philanthropist before serving as ambassador to Canada. Her husband, Joe Craft, is president and chief executive of coal producer Alliance Resource Partners.

The couple are major Republican donors, having given about $1.5 million to GOP candidates in 2016, including $270,800 to Trump’s campaign committee or his joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee.

The Crafts also have been repeat, high-paying customers at Trump’s hotel in Washington, according to a list of “VIP Arrivals” distributed to hotel staff on June 19, 2018. That list, obtained by The Washington Post, was intended to help staff identify the Trump International Hotel’s most important customers as they checked in.

The Crafts were listed as gold-level members of the Trump Card rewards program when they checked in for a three-day stay. They were also described as “high-rate” customers, and their listing bore the notation R(20), which former Trump Hotels employees have said indicates customers who’ve stayed at least 20 times. That was an unusually high number among the hundreds of Trump hotel guests whose VIP listings have been reviewed by The Post.

Kelly Craft was sworn in as ambassador to Canada in September 2017. The job representing the United States in Ottawa is a diplomatic plum, but not as sought-after as a posting in important European capitals.

The White House search for a replacement for Haley focused on female candidates, and those who had already been confirmed by the Senate for a current or past posting, people familiar with the selection process said. Craft also possesses a current security clearance, another plus, those people said.

Craft, who is hardly a household name, would lower the public profile of the U.N. job after Haley, whose prominence as a former South Carolina governor and national GOP star helped project Trump foreign policy priorities but whose independence sometimes rankled other aides.

Craft made headlines shortly after assuming her post in Canada when she told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News that she believes “both sides” of the climate change debate.

“I believe there are sciences on both sides that are accurate,” Craft told the Canadian broadcaster. “Both sides have their own results from their studies, and I appreciate and respect both sides of the science.”

Climate change is a major issue at the U.N., which sponsored the 2015 Paris climate accords that President Trump has disavowed.

In the CBC interview, Craft said the United States can work to counter climate change despite pulling out of the international compact. “We all have the same goal, and that is to better our environment and to maintain the environment,” she said.

David A. Fahrenthold and Anu Narayanswamy contributed to this report.