WASHINGTON — After a seven-month vacancy in the post of United States ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. senators on Wednesday confirmed Kelly Craft, America’s ambassador to Canada, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy on multilateralism’s biggest stage.
Craft fills a vacancy created when Nikki Haley left the U.N. post at the end of 2018. Craft 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. 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, a Republican former South Carolina governor, in a 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. ambassador. “Her experience in international affairs has won respect both at home and abroad,” McConnell said.
She came under fire in June, however, 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 the Canada ambassadorship 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 plus two months in personal days, according to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic staff.
Senate Democrats 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 she believed in “both sides of the science” behind global warming.
Last October, the Nobel Prize-winning U.N. panel on climate change said rising global average temperatures from human impacts could mean life or death for the planet as soon as 2040.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that even the best-case scenarios for cutting heat-trapping industrial emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change will not prevent all serious harm to the planet and future generations.
At her Senate confirmation hearing in June, Craft’s revised remarks on climate put her at apparent odds with the Trump administration. “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 Paris accord on how nations must report emissions and pay for climate action. The accord is meant to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible.
In 2017, Trump — hostile to international organizations and treaties — announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris deal. However, the accord does not allow nations that signed it to give one-year notice of departure until after 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.
In the U.S. political hierarchy, the importance of the U.N. ambassadorship in America’s foreign relations is considered second only to the job of U.S. Secretary of State. Craft comes to the U.N. post with little previous experience at such a high level on the world stage, but the Crafts have been major Republican donors, giving more than a quarter-million dollars to Trump’s campaign in 2016 and US$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.