White House heaps praise on Haley after SOTU response

Getty Images

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s (R) response to President Obama’s State of the Union address won her praise from the very place she was tasked with criticizing: the White House. 

“I have a lot of admiration for the governor,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis McDonoughHow Congress averted shutdown White House makes new push for young ObamaCare signups Obama: I curse more than I should MORE told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think some of the things she has done over the last year are remarkable.”

Haley’s response to Obama’s annual address was unusual in that it took a veiled shot at her own party’s presidential front-runner, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump to lay out first 100 days in Gettysburg speech GOP senator: Dems making ‘concerted effort to produce fraudulent votes’ Trump touts Navy expansion proposal in Pa. MORE

“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” she said. “We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”

Those comments echoed Obama’s speech, in which he rejected Trump’s doom-and-gloom message. Obama said at times of great change, America has never given in to “those who told us to fear the future” or promised “to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.”

“She was willing to do something a lot of other leading Republicans have been unwilling to do, which is to actually articulate a commitment for American values that some leading Republican presidential candidates are speaking out against," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday. “Her willingness to stand up and speak out against that took some courage and was it rather conspicuous.” 

But they also raised the ire of many on the right, including conservative pundit Ann Coulter, who said the governor — the child of Indian immigrants — should be “deported” for her remarks. 

Trump himself took a shot at Haley, who admitted in a Wednesday morning interview her comments were aimed at the billionaire real estate mogul. 

“She's very weak on illegal immigration. I've known that for a long time,” Trump said on Fox News. "And she certainly has no trouble asking me for campaign contributions.” 

McDonough didn’t specifically direct his praise at that portion of Haley’s speech, and he declined to predict what effect the address might have on the Republican presidential primary. 

But he praised Haley for her “powerful” leadership in the aftermath of last summer’s shootings at a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., and the subsequent removal of the Confederate flag from state grounds.  

“On one level, I wasn’t surprised to see some of the themes of the speech given that,” he said. “A lot of this, including many parts of the speech last night, were admirable.” 

McDonough later loosened his political bear hug of Haley, saying the White House disagreed with many of her positions, including her refusal to expand Medicaid in her state. 

“A lot of stuff that she has proposed we disagree with, and there are some things we wish she would do she hasn’t,” he said. “By no means am I trying to endorse everything she is doing.”

-- This report was updated at 2:38 p.m.