As an Indian American woman, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has occupied an unusual position in an administration whose broad lack of diversity at the highest levels of the federal government has been a defining feature.
Her surprise announcement Tuesday that she will leave her post by year’s end, amid reported friction with other top advisers to President Trump, further depletes the ranks of racial minorities and women serving in senior positions.
Haley’s departure leaves just four racial or ethnic minorities among the 23 Cabinet-level jobs. One, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, is among the five women left in those positions.
The situation drew fresh criticism from another high-ranking minority woman who left the White House staff — Omarosa Manigault Newman, an African American who resigned her post as a senior adviser to Trump under pressure in December. In a tweet, she called Haley “strong smart and authentic!”
“Losing Haley (a WOC) right before the election will be more of a statement of #45’s lack of diversity in this admin,” wrote Manigault Newman, using an acronym for “woman of color.”
In Trump’s Cabinet, the only remaining minorities are Chao, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose father is from Lebanon. Inside the West Wing, the only ethnic minority among Trump’s senior staff is legislative affairs director Shahira Knight, who emigrated from Egypt as a child.
Some diversity advocates criticized Haley’s record, saying she did little to temper what they viewed as Trump’s hostile rhetoric and exclusionary policies against minority groups, immigrants and refugees.
“This administration, including and not limited to Nikki Haley and the president, have quickly set of a range of policies that have had a disproportionately detrimental impact on South Asians,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together.
Raghunathan cited the Trump administration’s travel ban on several majority-Muslim nations, attempts to eliminate temporary protected status for immigrants from several countries and restrictions on legal immigration channels. She also highlighted a report from her organization that documented a rise in anti-Muslim violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asians and other groups, which the study attributed largely to Trump’s presidency.
“We look at results and the impact, and if you ask me what the impact has been on a day-to-day basis of any policies Nikki and many others in this administration weigh in on, all I can say is the assault on our community is unrelenting,” Raghunathan said.
Likewise, Manigault Newman drew heavy criticism from black communities for her role in the White House, where she struggled to build support among African Americans for Trump’s agenda and chafed at criticism that she had sold out her integrity for a White House job. Her presence hardly immunized Trump — who sparked outrage with his handling of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and NFL players’ national anthem protests — from criticism over his stance on race and diversity.
Though she strongly defended Trump while serving on his staff, Manigault Newman this summer published a highly critical tell-all book this summer, based largely on secretly recorded conversations at the White House, in which she called Trump a racist. Trump has frequently pushed back by pointing to support from some black celebrities, such as Kanye West, who is due to have lunch with the president Thursday at the White House.
Haley thrived last year in carving out a leadership position on foreign affairs, seizing a more public-facing role in a vacuum left by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who generally shied from publicity. However, she has clashed this year with the stronger personalities of Mike Pompeo, who replaced Tillerson, and national security adviser John Bolton.
Her departure leaves Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and CIA Director Gina Haspel as the highest-ranking women on Trump’s national security team. Loren Schulman, who served as a National Security Council official at the White House under President Barack Obama, said a lack of women in such jobs has long been a problem.
But Schulman, now an analyst at the Center for a New American Security who helps oversee a project to help more women in the field, added that Trump’s administration is “one of the most predominantly male administrations we’ve had.”
Obama authorized new rules for his administration requiring national security agencies to monitor how many women were on staff. Trump, Schulman said, has “obviously not made diversity a priority,” and she noted that the president has a preference for former military men — including White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who are both retired generals.
Mira Ricardel, a woman who serves as deputy national security adviser, was an appointed civilian official at the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration.
Schulman gave Haley credit for carving out her own identity at the U.N. but said that “if it’s not reflecting the views of the president himself, or where the rest of the National Security Council is, it does not matter. It’s nice for her to make a name for herself, but if it does not represent the administration, then who cares?”
Deepa Iyer, a social justice activist and writer, said most Americans of South Asian descent won’t be disappointed by Haley’s departure. She pointed to Haley muting her campaign-era criticism of the travel ban when she arrived at the U.N. and her willingness to remove the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Council over perceived bias against Israel.
“Not only has she not done enough, but she’s actively been advocating policies that are against the rights of people of color,” said Iyer, author of “We Too Sing America,” which examines state-sanctioned persecution of minority groups in the United States.
“Just because you are from a certain background does not automatically mean you have to represent your community,” Iyer said. “But in this moment, when immigrants and people of color are being threatened, we need people in critical and influential positions to push back and say something about what is going on.”