President Trump’s nominee to serve as the next ambassador to the United Nations publicly broke with him on climate change Wednesday, stating at her Senate confirmation hearing that she believes fossil fuels and human behavior contribute to the planet’s shifting weather phenomena — but stopping short of endorsing a return to international pacts such as the Paris climate agreement.
Kelly Knight Craft, now the U.S. ambassador to Canada, stressed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “human behavior has contributed to the change in climate. Let there be no doubt.”
“I also understand that fossil fuels have played a part in climate change,” she later added.
But Craft rejected urging the United States to make a return to the Paris agreement, warning that such pacts could “imperil” American jobs.
“We don’t feel like we have to be part of an agreement to be leaders,” she told senators, also arguing that the United States’ withdrawal was legitimate because “we expected other countries to step up, and while they did commit, they really were not serious.”
Democrats had voiced concerns about how Craft would address climate change because of her family’s investments — totaling tens of millions of dollars — in the fossil fuel industry. Craft pledged she would recuse herself from negotiations or meetings related to coal and potentially fossil fuels, promising to follow whatever ethics guidance she was given on oil and gas matters as well .
“Where coal is part of the conversation within climate change at the U.N., I will recuse myself,” Craft told Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) during the hearing. “If our ethics agreement called for me to recuse myself, absolutely, I will be in full compliance, I give you my word,” she said.
Craft’s nomination comes as lawmakers are increasingly concerned about Trump’s approach to the global community, particularly his embrace of totalitarian leaders and lack of attention to human rights matters traditionally prioritized by the U.S. government. Craft pledged to senators that if confirmed, she would focus on promoting the value of humanitarian aid and “miss no opportunity” to use the United States’ seat on the U.N. Security Council to hold adversary nations like China and Russia to account for human rights violations.
She also spoke of her responsibility as U.N. ambassador to advocate for the oppressed and persecuted, noting the civil wars in Yemen and Syria, the economic crisis in Venezuela and the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
But Craft refused to cross Trump on specific policy positions, including the administration’s decision to reduce its payment to the international organization and pull out of key bodies, such as the U.N. Human Rights Council.
“[The U.N.’s] ambitions at times have gotten ahead of accountability. Waste and overlap remain problems,” Craft said, arguing that the Trump administration had had “many recent successes at the U.N.” that she was “eager to build on.”
In one particularly tense exchange with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who is close to the president but opposes his cuts in humanitarian aid, Craft argued that it was the responsibility of other nations to fill the shortfalls created by the United States pulling back its support — an argument that echoes Trump’s talking points on other alliances, such as defense cooperation with NATO.
“We are asking for people to step up and share this burden,” Craft told Graham when he asked her about the president’s budget.
“Is the world safe enough for us to step down?” Graham asked.
“No, sir, we are leaders within the United Nations, and we are leaders around the world,” Craft answered, prompting Graham to retort: “Let’s show it.”
Otherwise, Republicans and Democrats made very different demands of her and the approach she should take, if confirmed.
“It is important that the U.S. continue to pressure the United Nations to spend its money efficiently and effectively,” panel Chairman Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) said, endorsing the Trump administration’s approach. “While the United States benefits from being a member of the U.N., the United Nations benefits more, much more, from the United States being a member.”
The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), stressed that Craft would need to commit to “reforming and strengthening the United Nations, not irreparably damaging it.”
“I have deep reservations about your lack of qualifications for such a complex and challenging role,” Menendez said.
Several Democrats raised questions about whether Craft would be dedicated enough to her job, pointing out that she spent the majority of her nearly two-year tenure as ambassador to Canada away from her duty post in Ottawa.
Menendez called her time away from the capital “staggering . . . very troubling and an abdication of leadership.”
But Craft argued that all of her trips had been “preapproved before travel” and that she had spent time on the road because she was involved in negotiating a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico.
“I was not going to let this country down, nor Ambassador Lighthizer nor the president,” she said, arguing that her duties included many trips to Washington, D.C., for negotiations and around Canada to promote the agreement. She was referring to U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer. “This was not a time to socialize, this was really a time to work,” Craft said.
Several Republican senators leaped to her defense.
“You prioritized the top priority of this administration,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said.
Craft promised to “support the president’s vision for peace and security” in the Middle East — but when asked directly by Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) whether Trump’s vision for the region included a two-state solution for Israel and Palestinian territories, she demurred.
“I have not been part of the Middle East peace process,” she said. “But if confirmed, I will tell you there will be no stronger friend than Kelly Craft and the United States for Israel and no stronger person to promote Israel in normalizing themselves in the system.”
But in a potential departure from Trump, Craft pledged to respect the findings of a U.N. investigation into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was also a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. Special U.N. investigator Agnes Callamard released a report Wednesday calling for added investigation of Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“We know there is an investigation,” Craft said, referring to the U.N.-sponsored inquiry, “and we will follow this investigation where it takes us.”
Trump has continued to embrace Saudi officials and said he accepts the royal family’s denials of culpability — infuriating members of both parties.
“He did it,” Graham, one of the biggest Republican critics of Trump’s approach to Saudi Arabia, said of the Saudi crown prince. “Wouldn’t have happened without him, he knew it was going to happen, he wanted it to happen, he caused it to happen, and this is just the tip of the iceberg of other things going on in this kingdom.”
“After this report’s issued,” Graham challenged Craft, “I want you to let the committee know, do you believe he did it.”
It could be July before the committee votes on Craft’s nomination, a Senate aide said.