WASHINGTON - The Senate has confirmed Kelly Craft to become the next U.S. envoy to the United Nations despite Democratic concerns about her inexperience and potential conflicts of interest.
Craft, a longtime GOP activist from Kentucky, is currently U.S. ambassador to Canada. She was confirmed 56-34, ending a more than seven-month vacancy in the key diplomatic position.
She and her husband, Joe Craft, have donated millions of dollars to Republican political candidates, and she will be first major political donor to occupy the top U.N. post for any administration. Joe Craft is the chief executive of Alliance Resource Partners, one of the largest coal producers in the country.
In her confirmation hearing, Craft vowed to continue the efforts of Trump's first ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, to push for reform at the world body and to fight against anti-Israel resolutions and actions by the United Nations and its affiliated agencies. During Haley's tenure, the administration withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. educational and scientific agency for adopting positions it deemed to be hostile to Israel.
Trump nominated Craft to replace Haley after his first choice for the job, former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew from consideration. Haley stepped down from the post in December.
Democrats criticized Craft at the hearing for previous remarks she had made doubting the causes and severity of climate change and suggesting that climate change skeptics have valid arguments. They were also concerned about possible conflicts of interest as she holds extensive investments in fossil fuels.
Craft said at the hearing that she acknowledges the "vast amount of science" regarding climate change and the role humans have played.
"If confirmed, I will be an advocate for addressing climate change," she said.
The Democrats have also expressed concerns about her time away from Canada during her tenure as ambassador. Craft testified that all of her travel had been approved in advance by the State Department, that much of it was work-related and that she and her husband had paid for all personal trips.
A report issued by the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, just before the vote called Craft "inexperienced," ''unknowledgeable" and "outmatched." The report said Craft's "lack of diplomatic or substantive policy experience" could threaten her ability to forcefully represent and defend U.S. national interests against other powerful nations.
"Never in our nation's history have we nominated such an underqualified person to this critical post," said Menendez.
Republicans, including her home-state senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, came to her defense.
"During her tenure as ambassador to Canada, America's relationship with our northern neighbor was tested," McConnell said in a floor speech before the vote. "A number of challenging policy hurdles threatened to trip up progress on several important issues, including trade negotiations. But by all accounts, Ambassador Craft's involvement led to greater cooperation."
As ambassador, Craft played a role in facilitating the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, Trump's long-sought revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
It was also a low point in relations between the two counties. Last year, Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.