WASHINGTON – Heather Nauert, President Donald Trump’s pick to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, withdrew her name from consideration on Saturday amid concerns about her qualifications for the high-profile post.
Nauert, a former Fox News host who now serves as the State Department’s spokesperson, cited the strain on her family in announcing her decision.
“I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary Pompeo for the trust they placed in me for considering me for the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations,” Nauert said in a statement. “However, the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration,” she said.
Critics had sharply questioned Trump’s appointment of Nauert, saying she did not have the foreign policy experience or political skills needed for such a key diplomatic job. Trump’s first U.N. ambassador, ex-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, left at the end of last year.
Nauert has served as the State Department’s chief spokeswoman since April 2017, winning Trump over with her polished, camera-ready defense of his “America First” approach to foreign policy. She has also earned the trust of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, traveling the globe with the former Kansas congressman and ex-CIA director.
But experts noted that Nauert would have been one of the most inexperienced U.N. ambassadors in history – at a time of extreme flux in international relations. Since taking office, Trump has picked major foreign policy fights with key U.S. allies, including Canada and France, while praising authoritarian regimes in Russia, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
There were “significant concerns” on Capitol Hill about her abilities to handle complex negotiations with other world powers, said Brett Bruen, a former State Department foreign service officer who served in the Obama administration on global engagement. “Basically folks in the Senate couldn’t see her doing battle successfully with the Russians (and the) Chinese.”
The U.N. job involves representing the United States at the U.N. Security Council and in delicate diplomatic negotiations with other world leaders. Previous U.N. ambassadors include Adlai Stevenson, George H.W. Bush and Madeleine Albright.
“Her only real foreign policy is this stint at the State Department in a kind of spokesperson role,” David Bosco, a professor of international relations at Indiana University, told USA TODAY when Trump first announced his choice of Nauert. “As I look at who we have had in this position over the decades, I think Nauert would be one of the least prepared for this position.”
Although Trump announced Nauert’s name in early December, the White House never formally submitted her nomination to the Senate. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, James Risch of Idaho, told USA TODAY in January he was ready to hold a confirmation hearing quickly on Nauert’s bid.
But Risch noted then that the Senate had not gotten any formal notification of her candidacy. He said it was “red tape” that was holding up her bid, as opposed to any problems with her background check.
But Bloomberg news reported Nauert’s nomination ran into trouble because she had hired a nanny who was in the U.S. legally but who did not have a work permit. The State Department press office did not immediately respond to a question about the Bloomberg report.
In its statement on Nauert’s withdrawal, the State Department said Trump would be announcing a new nominee for the U.N. ambassador position “soon.”
Bruen said having the U.N. position unfilled for this long puts the U.S. at a disadvantage. The U.S. is one of five permanent members of the international body’s Security Council.
“Without an ambassador at the United Nations, especially at the Security Council, we are severely handicapped,” he said. “We now have a major gap, just as we are trying to address and advance major issues like North Korea, Iran, and Russians’ extracurricular adventures.”
Prior to joining the State Department, Nauert, a 48-year-old native of Illinois, was a reporter for “Fox & Friends” and served in several other positions at the cable network channel. As a journalist, Nauert covered the 9/11 terror attacks, the war in Iraq and four presidential elections.
Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said he respected Nauert’s decision.
“Heather Nauert has performed her duties as a senior member of my team with unequalled excellence,” Pompeo said. “I wish Heather nothing but the best in all of her future endeavors and know that she will continue to be a great representative of this nation in whatever role she finds herself.”
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