Nikki Haley abruptly resigned as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.) on Tuesday, a development that sent shockwaves through Washington just a month before the midterm elections.
Haley announced her decision during a hastily announced meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office a week after sending him written notice of her resignation, saying she wanted to take a break from public service and vowing to back Trump for reelection in 2020.
“It’s been eight years of intense time and I’m a big believer in term limits,” Haley said. “You have to be selfless enough to know when you step aside and allow someone else to do the job.”
Haley’s departure robs the president of a reliable ally who was a respected face for the administration on the world stage and a Republican able to build bridges between different wings of the party.
The announcement prompted questions over its timing, coming days after the White House scored a major victory in the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“The president just had one of the best weekends of his presidency and immediately starts the week with a bad story,” said Republican political operative Alex Conant. “For Republicans that were hoping that Brett Kavanaugh enthusiasm would last through November, the timing is unfortunate.”
Haley’s surprise exit generated wide speculation about the future political ambitions of the former South Carolina governor, long seen as a rising GOP star.
One State Department official describing rank-and-file employees as “shocked” at the announcement.
“No, I’m not running for 2020. I can promise you what I’ll be doing is campaigning for this one. So, I look forward to supporting the president in the next election,” Haley said at Trump’s side on Tuesday.
Trump warmly accepted Haley’s resignation, describing her as a “fantastic person” who had done an “incredible job” in the role.
For nearly two years, Haley has served as a steward of the administration’s foreign policy efforts and, in many ways, eclipsed the president’s first secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, before he was replaced with Mike Pompeo this past spring.
Haley, known for her mainstream Republican credentials and a one-time critic of Trump, built a strong relationship with the president even as she at times displayed a willing to challenge him publicly.
When a top White House adviser suggested in April that Haley was confused when she forecasted a rollout of new sanctions on Russia, the U.N. ambassador hit back. “With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” Haley told Fox News in a statement read aloud on air.
She also said in December 2017 that women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct “should be heard.”
At the same time, Haley delivered on Trump’s foreign policy agenda. She championed the president’s efforts to take an adversarial stance toward the U.N. In June, she announced the United States’s withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying the body was a “protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.”
Among Republicans, the development was widely interpreted as a blow to the Trump administration, leaving many questioning who Trump would choose to replace her.
“Any time you lose somebody of this caliber, it is going to be a loss,” said Brett Schaefer, a U.N. analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “The number of people who can do what she did aren’t in abundance.”
The president said he intends to name a replacement for Haley in two to three weeks. Possible successors include Dina Powell, Trump’s former deputy national security adviser who left the administration at the beginning of the year.
Trump on Tuesday called Powell a “person I would consider” and Haley hosted Powell in her home state last weekend.
Some Trump allies urged the president to tap Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany who previously served as a spokesman for the ambassador to the U.N. during the George W. Bush administration. One of the ambassadors Grenell worked under was John Bolton, who is now Trump’s national security adviser. Grenell is well-liked among many White House staffers.
Trump himself suggested he is weighing the possibility of naming his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, for the post. He told reporters on the South Lawn, “Ivanka would be dynamite.” But he then appeared to downplay the possibility he would choose her, saying he would be accused of nepotism if he did.
Ivanka Trump in a tweet shortly after her father’s remarks said she would not succeed Haley.
Trump’s pick could face a difficult confirmation process, a prospect driven home by the bruising fight over the Kavanaugh nomination that played out in recent weeks. Haley herself was easily confirmed in the early days of the administration, picking up bipartisan support in a 96-4 vote.
Those on the global stage are also closely watching the developments. One former U.N. official pointed to concerns that Trump’s new ambassador could take an even more adversarial approach to the U.N. in the style of Bolton.
“She came in with basically a pragmatic view toward the position that she had. She had very strong views on certain issues – Iran, Israel, North Korea, Russia,” said Jeff Feltman, a former undersecretary-general for political affairs at the United Nations. “But I don’t think she came in with an ideological conviction that she couldn’t work with the U.N.”
Despite the cordial sendoff, Haley’s planned departure comes at an inopportune moment for the White House, overshadowing Kavanaugh’s nomination and sending a signal of tumult in the administration just weeks out from the midterms.
Republicans, however, don’t expect the development to have an impact in November.
“It’s easy to see with Kavanaugh how that quantifies in action at the polls in one direction or another,” said Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee official. “This won’t do that. It’s hard to look at a voter or a race where this is the motivator.”