The nation saw history in the making when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Randhawa Haley became the first Indian-American cabinet-level appointee Jan. 24, as the country’s representative to the United Nations. An overwhelming majority (96-4) of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in the Senate voted to confirm Haley, one of President-elect Donald Trump’s first nominees, and his critic during the presidential campaign. Several Senators lauded Haley’s leadership qualities and her ability to bring people together in her own state, and said her immigrant story was the quintessential American one of achieving the American Dream.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, the only African-American in the Senate, introduced Haley, as a “visionary leader” and Sen. Lindsey Graham, also a Republican from South Carolina, praised her as a “natural diplomat”.
“She’s tough, she’s determined … and very capable of being the voice of the United States in the United Nations,” Graham, a former Republican presidential candidate and critic of President-elect Trump said on the floor before the vote on the Senate floor.
Earlier in the day, Haley’s nomination was approved by 21-member Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a majority vote.
“Governor Haley is a fierce advocate for American interests,” said U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “As South Carolina’s Governor, Nikki Haley is a proven leader. I believe she has the instincts that will help her achieve reform,” Corker added.
Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, gave a more qualified support to Haley during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting immediately preceding the vote in the full Senate.
“What Governor Haley lacks in foreign policy and international affairs experience, she makes up for in capability, intelligence, and a track record of building coalitions in South Carolina” said Cardin. While surprised by her nomination, Cardin sadi, “I have been impressed by her forthrightness on core American values, her willingness to admit what she does not know, and her commitment to seeking the facts and speaking truth to power, whether within the Trump Administration or with an intransigent Russia and China in the Security Council.” High praise coming from an opposition member.
Cardin called the U.N. an “indispensable force for good in the world that bolsters American national security,” countering the criticism of the international body by the incoming President of the U.S. Donald Trump. “Governor Haley appears up to the task and seems to understand this as well, and I will therefore be voting to approve her nomination as our next Ambassador to the U.N.”
Senators, Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, and Chris Coons, D-Delaware, voted against Haley both in the Committee and on the Senate floor, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist who ran against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. The fourth ‘nay’ vote was from U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, D- New Mexico.
Haley cut an impressive figure at her Jan. 18 testimony before the same committee. At that time Corker had said, “People have very much appreciated your instincts. … I am certain you are going to be confirmed overwhelmingly,” Corker added. He was right. Haley was confirmed by a 96-4 vote, the dissenters, all Democrats –
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. She also stood out nationally for her empathetic reaction 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; She was admired for taking the politically difficult decision to remove the Confederate flag from State House grounds.
Ranged behind her on the first row at the hearing was Haley’s 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.
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.
But she held to the position that the U.N. “absolutely needs to be fixed,” and promised to bring “seriously needed change” to the international body.
“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 Sens. Udall and Coons, strong supporters of the U.N., about the consequences of pulling funds from the body and creating a void that would certainly be filled by Russia and China, Haley backtracked.
“No, we should not have a slash and burn policy,” Haley responded.