Donald Trump on Wednesday named South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a former critic who has little foreign policy experience, to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at a time of uncertainty over America's international role under his presidency.
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Haley, one of two women chosen for a job in Trump's Cabinet, is "a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage," the Republican president-elect said in a statement.
The 44-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley represents what some Republicans hope could be the new face of their party: a younger, more diverse generation of leaders.
Haley took Trump strongly to task during the presidential campaign over his harsh rhetoric about illegal immigration and for not speaking forcefully enough against white supremacists.
Trump has chosen mostly male conservatives so far for senior positions as he shapes his administration following his victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 election. Trump takes over from President Barack Obama on Jan. 20.
The choice of Haley may be aimed at countering criticism of Trump's divisive comments about immigrants and minorities, as well as accusations of sexism during his election campaign.
Haley led a successful effort last year to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol after the killing of nine black churchgoers in Charleston. The flag was carried by pro-slavery Confederate forces during the U.S. Civil War and is viewed by many as a racist emblem.
Haley said she had accepted Trump's offer and would remain governor pending her confirmation to the Cabinet-level post by the U.S. Senate.
"When the president believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation's standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed," she said in a statement.
Haley's job may include reassuring allies worried about some of Trump's campaign rhetoric, including his pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to curb illegal immigration, his promise to review trade agreements and his suggestion that he would push NATO partners to pay more for their own defense.
Trump wants a better relationship with Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. He has antagonized China, another major power at the United Nations, with his rhetoric on trade and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Trump, a New York real estate magnate who has never held public office, gave few clues about his world view during an extensive interview with The New York Times on Tuesday.
Asked what he sees as America's role in the world, Trump answered: "That's such a big question." When pressed more, he described the Iraq war as a mistake, urged better relations with Russia and called for an end to "that craziness that's going on in Syria."
One of the five permanent veto-powers on the 15-member Security Council, the United States is also the largest funder of the United Nations, paying more than a quarter of the $8 billion peacekeeping budget and 22 percent of the regular budget.
Trump picked conservatives to lead his national security and law enforcement teams last week, suggesting he plans to make good on his campaign promises to take a hard line on Islamist militancy and curbing illegal immigration
But a relative moderate, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is under active consideration to head the State Department, along with other candidates.
Haley would succeed Obama's U.N. envoy, Samantha Power, a foreign policy expert before she took the job. In contrast, Haley, a state lawmaker before becoming governor, has little experience in international relations.
Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller played up Haley's foreign trade experience as a governor.
"She's done a fantastic job with the state of South Carolina, in helping to improve the economy. That included a number of overseas trade and business recruitment missions," he said.
SHARP WORDS FOR TRUMP
Haley was a robust critic of Trump during the early stages of the Republican presidential primary race, including condemning him for not disavowing the support of white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan and one of its former leaders, David Duke.
In a rebuttal to Obama's State of the Union address in January, Haley called for tolerance on immigration and civility in politics, in what some saw as a rebuke of Trump.
"During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices," she said. "We must resist that temptation."
She supported Trump rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both U.S. senators, in the Republican primary before saying last month she would vote for Trump despite reservations about his character.
Haley also criticized Trump last winter for not releasing his tax returns, prompting him to hit back on Twitter, "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed of Nikki Haley!"
Trump on Wednesday also picked wealthy Republican donor and school choice advocate Betsy DeVos to lead the Education Department, saying she would "break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back."
DeVos, a billionaire former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, has long pushed for a larger role for private education.
As chair of the American Federation for Children advocacy group, she has advocated for vouchers that families can use to send their children to private schools and for the expansion of charter schools.
The National Education Association, the country's largest union, condemned DeVos' nomination. "She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education," said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.
Trump, who was in Florida for the Thanksgiving break, was expected to announce later on Wednesday that he has chosen Ben Carson to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"After serious discussions with the Trump transition team, I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly to making our inner cities great for everyone," Carson, a former Republican presidential candidate, wrote on Facebook.