South Carolina Gov. Nikki Randhawa Haley cut an impressive figure at her Jan. 18 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was almost unanimously receptive to her nomination by President-elect Donald Trump as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
In fact, her hearing went so well that at the end of the three and a half hours of questioning, Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, told Haley, “We will have your markup on Monday (Jan. 23)” along with that of Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, with whom Haley will work closely as U.N. Ambassador. “People have very much appreciated your instincts. … I am certain you are going to be confirmed overwhelmingly,” Corker added. After this committee clears Haley, the Senate will vote and Democrats led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, may delay confirmation, according to Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
Haley, 44, successfully portrayed a dynamic, young, eager, elected public servant with a heart-warming immigrant success story. Born and brought up in South Carolina, she found a receptive audience enamored of not just the immigrant success story, but also the youngest governor’s meteoric rise to national attention from the small town of Bamberg, South Carolina where she faced discrimination, to governor of the state. She spoke out against some of Trump’s positions during the presidential campaign. They had in mind her conduct in the aftermath of the massacre of 9 parishioners at an African American church in Charleston, S.C. by a white supremacist now awaiting sentencing; her genuine empathy for the black community following the massacre and her politically difficult decision to remove the Confederate flag from State House grounds, an act that catapulted her yet again to the national stage with talk of a possible vice presidential run, and future presidential potential.
Ranged behind her on the first row at the hearing was her family – young son Nalin, her husband Michael Haley of the South Carolina National Guards who was deployed to Afghanistan, her father, retired professor Ajit Randhawa in his turban, her mother, a successful entrepreneur, and her brother Mitti Randhawa, a retired officer of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps who served in Desert Storm.
Haley’s questioning for some three and a half hours, was relatively kind and gentle, and more a coaxing probing into her boss’s positions and whether she complied with them. Trump’s positions on Russia, North Korea, the Iran nuclear deal, and his disparagement of the United Nations saw Haley making a brave attempt to defend and differ from him, even as she shifted positions on issues such as holding the U.N. accountable by using financial pressure; Israel’s illegal expansion of settlements in the Gaza strip; the role of peacekeepers and the sexual abuse allegations against some; whether Russia was a human rights violator and a war criminal; whether climate change was something she could support. Senators made considerable accommodation for the learning curve of the governor.
Haley performed well as a quick study for her move from state politics to international diplomacy. She argued for lofty goals such as holding up “American values,” projecting America’s strength, but conceded that there was a need for alliances. “You will see me all over the U.N. if confirmed, to emphasize the importance of keeping our alliances,” Haley said.
At the outset however, Haley declared, “I see a U.N. that absolutely needs to be fixed,” and promised to bring “seriously needed change” to the international body. She criticized the Obama administration for abstaining on Resolution 2334, which criticized Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in the Gaza Strip, a “terrible mistake.”
“We are the moral compass of the world,” Haley declared, asserting that under her leadership there would be no more “grey” areas, and that she would show America’s strength in the Security Council. She repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. contributed 22 percent of the U.N. budget and close to 29 percent of its Peacekeeping budget, indicating that should be leveraged, and initially said she would “not shy away” from withholding funds if the international body did not comply with U.S. goals. Following remarks by Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, a strong supporter of the U.N., and Delaware’s Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, about the consequences of pulling funds from the body and creating a void that would certainly be filled by Russia and China, Haley backtracked.
“You don’t believe we should be threatening to pull funds because we don’t get the outcome from the deliberative process?” Murphy asked saying it would be potentially catastrophic to do that.
“No, we should not have a slash and burn policy,” Haley responded.
She conceded there should be “serious consequences” for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Crimea, and human rights violations in Aleppo, Syria.
She defended Trump’s statements diminishing the role of NATO, and criticism of the U.N., arguing that “What the President-elect has put out there are his opinions as they stand now,” and that “His comments come with a fresh set of eyes.” But she followed that up by indicating that a President Trump would change his mind after listening to expert opinion. “I do anticipate he will listen to all of us,” Haley said.
However, she came out more categorically on her opposition to the idea floated in the Trump camp about a “registry” for Muslims.