Nauert faces questions about qualifications at UN

In two years, Heather Nauert has moved from Fox News to the State Department, earning good reviews along the way as the spokeswoman for President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to visit White House on Monday Transportation Dept requests formal audit of Boeing 737 Max certification MORE’s State Department.

Now she’s poised for an even bigger role as Trump’s nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a job that combines the need to be an advocate for the United States and administration with the policy chops necessary to serve as the top U.S. envoy.

Critics have raised skepticism about the former cable news anchor’s fitness for the job, citing her lack of deep experience in government and traditional foreign policy credentials.

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“I’ll be happy to hear why she thinks she’s qualified,” said Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange William Barr is right man for the times MORE (N.J.), the Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat. “She has no foreign policy experience that I can deduce, and being a spokesperson is different than being the chief diplomat of the United States at a world body like the United Nations.”

Supporters say she’s more than qualified for the role, noting her practice in messaging the administration’s foreign policy for nearly two years under Trump’s first Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonPompeo jokes he'll be secretary of State until Trump 'tweets me out of office' Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN ambassador job Trump administration’s top European diplomat to resign in February MORE and now his successor, Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoState Department blocks reporters from Pompeo briefing with faith-based media: report The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms Pompeo jokes he'll be secretary of State until Trump 'tweets me out of office' MORE.

Nauert also served as Acting Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs between March and April of this year, one of six under secretary positions at State. 

Trump is expected to downgrade the U.N. ambassador post, meaning that Nauert will not be a part of the president’s Cabinet, as her predecessor Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) Haley40 years of Iranian threats against Israel and few pay any attention Nikki Haley endorses term limits for Congress Pelosi: Kim 'big winner' of North Korea talks MORE was. She is likely to play less of a role in developing policy than national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Pompeo.

“I think the criticism of Heather Nauert is in some ways outdated,” said Brett Schaefer, a U.N. analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “She has a great deal of experience in thinking about, in defending and explaining this administration’s foreign policy.”

“I don’t think she’s going to have as high profile of a policy formation role as Ambassador Haley did,” Schaefer said.

Nauert is widely believed to have a tough act to follow in Haley, the former South Carolina governor who commanded respect for her negotiation skills and independent voice even from those who criticize the administration’s actions.

Haley had little foreign policy experience but a robust government background, and quickly emerged as a fierce and respected voice for the administration.  

There are no signs yet that Nauert’s confirmation will be a bruising battle in a Senate where Republicans will hold a 53-47 majority.

Still, she is expected to be peppered with questions on her foreign policy know-how from Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in private one-on-one meetings and, eventually, a public confirmation hearing.  

Most Republicans have had a muted reaction to Nauert’s nomination, many holding judgment until they can meet with her in person and question her publicly in the new year.

“I look forward to meeting with her and learning more about her views,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen Dem senator wants Trump to extend immigration protections to Venezuelans Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump MORE (R-Fla.), who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.

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“I think if you’re the right person with the right level of intellect and understanding, then she can do the job. I just haven’t met her, so I can’t render a judgment. I have nothing against her, I just haven’t met her,” he said.

Fellow committee member Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonScott Walker considering running for Wisconsin governor or Senate: report GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers The Hill's 12:30 Report: O'Rourke jumps into 2020 fray MORE (R-Wis.) similarly withheld judgment until he meets with her.

“I’ve only met Heather one time, and that was actually when she was still at Fox,” Johnson said. “I want to review her background and talk to her and have an interview with her, and we’ll just go through the confirmation process.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Dems want to abolish Electoral College because they 'want rural America to go away' Overwhelming majority of voters want final Mueller report released: poll Bottom Line MORE (R-S.C.) has offered a robust endorsement of her nomination, calling her a “solid choice” and citing her rapport with Pompeo and Trump.

Nauert beat out a slew of candidates with more traditional foreign policy backgrounds for the position, including Richard Grenell, the current ambassador to Germany. Historically, occupants of the role have served in high-profile diplomatic or political positions prior to their appointment.

If confirmed, Nauert will be thrust into a vast bureaucratic organization where she will need to learn quickly how to deal with and negotiate with foreign counterparts on hot-button issues such as Iran, Yemen, North Korea’s nuclear program and Russia’s continued intervention in Ukraine.

And while Nauert has earned respect within the Trump administration, she will now need to match that on the international stage.

“She’s going to have a lot to prove very quickly, and I think she knows that, which could end up working to her advantage,” said Rachel Rizzo, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

Haley’s exit is one of multiple shakeups that has remade Trump’s foreign policy apparatus over the past year. Trump replaced Tillerson, who had in many ways been eclipsed by Haley as the chief U.S. diplomat, with Pompeo in the spring and brought on Bolton as his third national security adviser soon after.

While Nauert has demonstrated an ability to articulate Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, the challenge she will confront, experts say, will be negotiating tough issues and navigating a complex bureaucracy on the global stage — something Haley is believed to have mastered early on.

The administration has also been rocked by the resignation of Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisMattis returning to Stanford months after Pentagon resignation US-backed fighters capture ISIS militants suspected of killing American troops Nielsen warns US 'not prepared' for foreign cyberattacks MORE, which has also shaken some of Trump’s GOP allies on Capitol Hill.

Mattis tendered his resignation following a disagreement with the president over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, a move that also has its critics in Congress. Nauert is sure to be asked about the policy, as well as the drawdown of troops Trump plans for Afghanistan, and the treatment of U.S. allies and traditional rivals such as Russia and China.

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the incoming Foreign Relations chairman, said the panel would move Nauert’s nomination “as quickly as we can after the first of the year.” Haley will vacate her post at the end of December.