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 TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants 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) MenendezThere is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties Ending the Cyprus arms embargo will increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean 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 TillersonBolton says Russia, China seeking to promote discord in Trump administration Bolton says Russia, China seeking to promote discord in Trump administration Trump's nastiest break-ups: A look at the president's most fiery feuds MORE and now his successor, Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoU.S. releases new photos purporting to show Iran was behind tanker attack U.S. releases new photos purporting to show Iran was behind tanker attack Tensions with Iran reach new stage over uranium threat 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) HaleyOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments UN nominee Kelly Craft to face confirmation hearing Wednesday 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 RubioOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Senators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission 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 JohnsonHillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach 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 GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? Trump wishes 'Happy Father's Day to all,' including 'worst and most vicious critics' 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 MattisTop nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One 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.