Trump UN nominee: Climate change poses 'real risks'

Trump UN nominee: Climate change poses 'real risks'
© Keren Carrion

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday that humans have “contributed” to climate change and vowed to press for global action if she’s confirmed — but stressed that she doesn’t think the United States should take on an “outsized burden” in tackling the issue.

Kelly Craft, the wife of a coal executive, also pledged to recuse herself from matters involving coal as she defended her record before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in her bid to become the next U.N. ambassador.

“Climate change needs to be addressed, as it poses real risks to our planet. Human behavior has contributed to the changing climate,” Craft said. “Let there be no doubt: I will take this matter seriously, and if confirmed, I will be an advocate for all countries to do their part in addressing climate change.

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“This does not mean, in my view, that the United States should imperil American jobs — or our economy as a whole — by assuming an outsized burden on behalf of the rest of the world,” she continued. “However, it does mean that we should promote the creativity and innovation that have made the United States a leader in tackling the challenges of our environment — all while safeguarding our nation’s economic well-being.”

Craft’s comments on climate change sought to manage fallout from a 2017 interview where she said “there are scientists on both sides that are accurate” about whether climate change exists, despite the scientific consensus that it does.

The Trump nominee to succeed Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyJuan Williams: Why does Trump fear GOP voters? Can Carl DeMaio save the California GOP? Treasury: US deficit tops trillion in 11 months MORE as the permanent U.N. ambassador has also faced tough questioning from Democrats on the committee about her level of experience and the administration’s efforts to curb U.S. contributions to the global body.

Craft, who was formally nominated for the U.N. post last month, has served as U.S. ambassador to Canada since she was confirmed by voice vote in August 2017.

In that role, Craft was credited with maintaining smooth relations with Canada even as Trump looked to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Craft’s travel of more than 300 days while serving as ambassador to Canada became a top topic of discussion Wednesday after Politico published an article Monday night saying she was an “absent” ambassador.

The top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (N.J.), grilled her on her travel, while several Republican senators offered her time to defend herself.

Craft maintained that the travel was done in support of her job to advance the trade negotiations.

“We had moments of doubt, and that is why it was imperative that [Canadian] Ambassador [to the U.S. David] MacNaughton or myself be present whether it be in Canada for meetings or in Washington,” she said of the trade negotiations.

In confirmed, Craft would fill a role that has been filled in an acting capacity by Jonathan Cohen since Haley resigned in December.

Before becoming the ambassador to Canada, Craft was most known as a top Republican donor active in Kentucky politics and as the wife of a coal executive with ties to the Trump administration.

Haley, the former Republican governor of South Carolina, also came into the role with virtually no foreign policy experience but was able to quickly earn respect even from corners critical of the Trump administration and its policies.

But Craft’s level of experience was a top concern from Democrats on Wednesday as they questioned whether she will be able to represent the United States at the U.N. at a time of international turmoil, including amid heightened tensions with Iran and North Korea.

“I have deep reservations about your lack of qualifications for such a complex and challenging role,” Menendez told Craft. “Historically, U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. have brought significant executive experience, or experience working directly in foreign policy.”

Asked about the most pressing issues facing the U.N., Craft said she considers that to be any issue of human rights abuses, including Venezuela, Yemen and Syria. Menendez derided her answer as missing issues such as North Korean nuclear proliferation, Libya’s destabilization, China’s growing influence and Iranian threats.

Since becoming president, Trump has withdrawn from or ended U.S. funding for some U.N. programs, including the U.N. Human Rights Council and an aid program for Palestinian refugees.

Craft said she “understands” criticisms of the U.N. and said she considers the Security Council the most important avenue to represent U.S. interests.

“Whether or not we are in the room with the Human Rights Council or a member is really not as important as the ability, as the U.S. U.N. ambassador, to use the Security Council as a platform to call out these countries on human rights abuses,” she said. “If confirmed, I will use the Security Council as a platform.”