WASHINGTON -- U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft is emerging as the front-runner to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is backing Craft for the post, and she also has the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. They say President Donald Trump has been advised that Craft's confirmation would be the smoothest of the three candidates he is considering to fill the job last held by Nikki Haley.
Craft, a Kentucky native, was a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. General Assembly under President George W. Bush's administration. She is also friends with McConnell's wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and thanked Chao for her "longtime friendship and support" at her swearing-in as ambassador.
As U.S. ambassador to Canada, she played a role in facilitating the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump's first pick to replace Haley, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew over the weekend.
Trump is also considering U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former U.S. Senate candidate John James of Michigan for the post.
Nauert's weekend withdrawal from consideration came amid a push within the administration to fill the position given a pressing array of foreign policy concerns in which the United Nations, particularly the U.N. Security Council, is likely to play a significant role. From Afghanistan to Venezuela, the administration has pressing concerns that involve the world body, and officials said there had been impatience with the delays on Nauert's formal nomination.
Trump said Dec. 7 that he would pick the former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman for the U.N. job, but her nomination was never formalized. Notwithstanding other concerns that may have arisen during her confirmation, Nauert's nomination had languished in part due to the 35-day government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and interrupted key parts of the vetting process.
With Nauert out of the running, officials said Pompeo was keen on Craft to fill the position. Although Pompeo would like to see the job filled, the vacancy has created an opportunity for him and others to take on a more active role in U.N. diplomacy. On Thursday, for example, Pompeo was in New York to meet with U.N. chief Antonio Guterres.
Three other officials said both Pompeo and Bolton favor demoting the U.N. position to a sub-Cabinet level position, and Grenell has suggested he isn't interested in a non-Cabinet role. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal personnel deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Haley had been a member of the Cabinet and had clashed repeatedly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others during the administration's first 14 months. Bolton was not a Cabinet member when he served as U.N. ambassador in President George W. Bush's administration, and neither he nor Pompeo is eager to see a potential challenge to their foreign policy leadership in White House situation room meetings, according to the officials.
Chris Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, describes Craft as warm and gracious and said she is often underestimated.
"She's always, 'Oh, you know, I'm not the policy expert.' But she has a disarming quality. She's not a policy intellectual, but she's more emotionally astute and so I think she is more effective than she comes off," Sands said.
Craft is married to billionaire coal-mining executive Joe Craft, and they are major Republican donors.
Craft has been ambassador during a low point in relations. Last year Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.