WASHINGTON — After a seven-month vacancy in the high-profile job of United States ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. senators on Wednesday officially confirmed Kelly Knight Craft, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy on multilateralism’s biggest stage.
Craft is filling a post that has been vacant since Nikki Haley departed at the end of 2018. She and her billionaire industrialist husband, Joseph Craft III, who presides over one of the biggest coal producers in the eastern United States, are political allies of Trump and Republicans who control the Senate.
She was confirmed along party lines in a 56-34 vote; just five Senate Democrats backed her confirmation. But two Republicans and eight Democrats, including seven pursuing their party’s 2020 presidential nomination, were not on hand for the vote. By contrast, the 100-member Senate confirmed Haley in 96-4 vote.
The Crafts, both Kentucky natives, have close ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who recommended her for the job of U.N. envoy. “Her experience in international affairs has won respect both at home and abroad,” McConnell said.
But she came under fire in June when Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the most senior non-Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, disclosed records showing she was absent from her post in Canada for more than 300 days between October 2017 and June 2019.
Craft said she was away negotiating the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, an unratified trade deal, during her 20 months as ambassador to Canada. But those absences included seven months spent in places where she had homes, Democrats said, plus another two months in personal days, according to findings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic staff.
Senate Democrats also criticized her family’s ties to the coal industry at a time when the world faces an immense climate crisis. In 2017, she was quoted by Canada’s publicly owned CBC News as saying that she believed in “both sides of the science” behind climate change.
Last October, the Nobel Prize-winning U.N. panel on climate change reported that rising temperatures from human-affected impacts could mean life or death for the planet as soon as 2040.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, concluded in a major report that even the most optimistic scenarios for lowering global greenhouse gases in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change will have serious repercussions for the planet and future generations.
At her Senate confirmation hearing in June, however, Craft modified her public comments on climate change and put herself at odds with the Trump administration’s stance. “Let there be no doubt: I take this matter seriously, and if confirmed, I will be an advocate for all countries to do their part in addressing climate change,” she said.
In December, almost 200 nations adopted a rulebook for the 2015 Paris Agreement that sets out how nations must report their carbon emissions and pay for climate action. The Paris accord aims to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible.
But in 2017, Trump — hostile to international organizations and treaties — announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement. One of its provisions, however, bars any nation that signed it from giving a one-year notice of departure until at least November 4, 2019. This means none of the signatories, including the United States, can exit until November 4, 2020 — exactly one day after the next U.S. presidential election.
Craft comes to the job with little previous experience at such a high level on the world stage; the U.N. ambassadorship is considered in U.S. diplomatic circles second in importance only to the job of Secretary of State. But the Crafts have been major Republican donors, giving more than a quarter-million dollars to Trump’s campaign in 2016 and $1 million to his inaugural committee.
Aside from her post in Canada, where she was involved in negotiating trade deals, Craft was part of a U.S. delegation to the U.N. under then-U.S. President George W. Bush in 2007.