What to expect from Kelly Craft's hearing for US ambassador to UN

Kelly Knight Craft, U.S. ambassador to Canada. Photo by: REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst

NEW YORK — Kelly Knight Craft, U.S. ambassador to Canada, will state her case for becoming the next United Nations representative when she goes before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday morning.

The ambassador position has been vacant since Nikki Haley left the job in October 2018.

Craft would join a U.S. mission that has recently shrunk both in size and political stature at the U.N. The representative post is no longer ranked at the top cabinet level in the U.S. government, meaning that Craft “would be limited with crafting the positions and the policy of the U.N.,” explained Shannon Kowalski, policy and advocacy director with the International Women’s Health Coalition.

“The main point of contention is likely to be Craft's positions on climate change and links to the coal industry.”

— Letter from Democrat senators

But the U.N. ambassador position, typically reserved for seasoned diplomats, still comes with a considerable level of responsibility.

“The fact that Craft will not have cabinet rank, unlike Haley, will affect her clout in both Washington and New York. But she is said to have good ties to Vice President Pence, which gives her political credibility, and a lot of U.S. allies will try to build strong relationships with her in New York,” explained Richard Gowan, U.N. director of the International Crisis Group.

The U.S. mission to the U.N. has experienced a “diplomatic drift” since Haley’s departure, and U.S. officials have often worked without clear guidance from Washington, Gowan explained.

“Almost all foreign diplomats, including some U.S. opponents, want Craft to arrive in New York as a serious negotiating partner,” Gowan said.

Craft will likely be questioned about her work as ambassador to Canada, including her attendance record. Here’s what else we will be watching for.

Funding for the UN

The U.S. is still the largest single donor to the U.N. and contributed more than $10 billion to the U.N. in 2017.

But the Trump administration has already cut all funding to the U.N. Population Fund and U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. And the administration has made clear that it wants to further reduce support to peacekeeping and climate change work. The U.S. funded more than 28% of the U.N. peacekeeping operations’ $6.78 billion budget from July 2018 through June 2019, though Congress has agreed to cap funding at 25%.

Gowan says he will listen for Craft to comment on the financial toll of U.N. peacekeeping work.

“I will be listening out for anything she says about U.N. peacekeeping, and especially how much it costs. If Craft follows Haley's playbook and makes reducing the costs of U.N. operations a persistent priority, it will hurt the U.N.'s ability to protect the vulnerable in places like South Sudan and DRC,” Gowan explained.

Gender and sexual and reproductive health

The Trump administration has taken a consistently aggressive stance on gender rights at major conferences and in key U.N. agreements. The anti-abortion lobbying group the Center for Family and Human Rights, or C-Fam, has reportedly worked closely with the U.S. mission on policy points and language guidance.

In March, U.S. Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet released a statement following the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women conference that did not mention sexual and reproductive rights, but said the U.S. is committed to “protecting the precious gift of life, including the protection of baby girls who would have been aborted, merely because they are female.”

Craft may give some idea of how her leadership would guide this work.

“We have seen the U.S. take increasingly aggressive positions when it comes to gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights. At the U.N., in particular, we are concerned that will continue under Craft,” Kowalski explained.

While there was a willingness to compromise with other countries on sexual and reproductive rights under Haley, that cooperation has since waned, according to Kowalski.

“We have seen that dissipate in the last couple of months where the U.S. is increasingly unwilling to come to the table in a meaningful way when it comes to sexual and reproductive health,” Kowalski said.

Climate change

Craft, who has questioned the science on climate change, will likely face some questioning on her views and her deep ties to the coal industry.

Craft’s husband, Joseph Craft III, is the head of Alliance Resource Partners, the third largest coal company in the U.S., and the two have been major donors to the Trump campaign and to the Republican party.

“I believe there are scientists on both sides that are accurate,” Craft said in a 2017 interview. “Well, I think that both sides have, you know, their own results from their studies, and I appreciate and respect both sides of the science.”

A letter from a group of Democratic senators shows they will press her on this answer.

“The main point of contention is likely to be Craft's positions on climate change and links to the coal industry. I think that Craft will also face some tough questions about the Trump administration's efforts to roll back women's rights at the UN,” said Gowan. Overall, he does not expect “a very tough hearing” for the ambassador, who has already been approved by the Senate for her current position.

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.