Published 12:39 PM EDT Oct 9, 2018
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump accepted the resignation of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Tuesday, an unexpected departure for one of the president’s longest-serving top aides.
Haley, a former South Carolina governor who was confirmed just days after Trump’s inauguration, announced her decision during a hastily scheduled meeting with Trump in the Oval Office. She said she would leave by the end of the year.
“She’s done a fantastic job and we’ve done a fantastic job together,” Trump said.
Initially a critic of Trump, Haley helped shepherd in the administration’s tougher stance at the United Nations, including Trump's decision to leave the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year. She is also among the most prominent women in Trump's Cabinet.
"The U.S. is strong again," Haley said in the Oval Office. "Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do."
Haley, widely considered a possible candidate for higher office, also sometimes broke ranks with Trump. In the days leading up to this year’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, Haley indicated Trump’s speech before the Security Council would be focused on Iran. White House officials later dismissed that idea, saying the address would focus on controlling weapons of mass destruction.
Tuesday, Haley rejected talk of a presidential campaign and said she intends to support Trump for re-election.
“No. I am not running in 2020," she said.
More: Nikki Haley: World leaders laughed at Trump because they love his honesty
More: Trump's tough line on Iran could rankle world leaders at UN General Assembly
More: Senate confirms Trump nominee Nikki Haley for UN ambassador
The daughter of immigrants from India, Haley was a South Carolina legislator who rode a wave of Tea Party support to win the governor's race in 2010.
She won re-election in 2014, but cut her second term short to join Trump's diplomatic team. Republicans in South Carolina, a key state for Trump in the 2016 GOP primaries, urged Trump to recruit Haley, who was also discussed for the secretary of State slot.
But while she's one of Trump's longest-serving aides, there has been friction between the two.
In April, White House aides criticized Haley for getting ahead of the administration in announcing Russia sanctions. Haley, meanwhile, bristled at top economic adviser Larry Kudlow's suggestion that the UN ambassador had "momentary confusion" over the issue.
"With all due respect, I don't get confused," Haley replied in a statement.
Haley also had to take the unusual step of denying in public that she had an affair with Trump, after the publication of Michael Wolf's book on the administration, "Fire and Fury."
Haley sometimes clashed with Trump’s first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. But she was in sync with Tillerson’s replacement, Mike Pompeo, a former conservative congressman and and previous CIA director, as well as National Security Adviser John Bolton, perhaps the most hawkish member of Trump’s foreign policy team.
She also publicly aired her differences with Trump over his support for Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, who had been accused of inappropriate sexual advances on teenage girls. She said women who accuse powerful men of sexual misconduct “should be heard.”
Haley was also reportedly upset at Trump's comments expressing sympathy for white supremacists who demonstrated in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. The U.N. ambassador said she had a "personal conversation" with Trump about the incident,f in which a counter-demonstrator was hit by a car and killed.
During her years as governor, Haley led the effort to remove the Confederate battle flag from the top of the statehouse. She also won praise for her comments following the massacre of nine worshippers at an African-American church in 2015.
Brett Bruen, who served as the global engagement director in the Obama administration, said Haley’s resignation was a “significant blow” to the Trump administration’s ability to executive its foreign policy agenda. He said U.N. ambassadors normally stay for an entire term, in part because it takes time to build up the relationships and trust needed to be successful at the United Nations.
“At the U.N., it’s not a situation where you get to parachute in and affect immediately change,” Bruen said. “You have to get to know the ambassadors, you have to get to know the institution… For her to walk away halfway through that process leaves the United States vulnerable at a very serious time.”
He said her decision is a “political calculation” – she doesn’t want to be part of the administration after the midterms, when Democrats could retake control of the House or the Senate.
“And as we’ve seen, she is preparing her presidential campaign. She’s preparing to lay the ground, if not for 2020, then 2024.”
He said that while she voiced her differences with Trump early on, “ultimately she got in line and she became an ardent cheerleader for some of the most misguided policies of the Trump administration, whether it was moving our embassy to Jerusalem (or) denial of humanitarian aid to Palestinians.”
Her legacy, he added, “will be an America that is isolated, an American that lacks influence.”