When United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley announced her resignation beside President Trump in the Oval Office on Oct. 9, the White House was already considering a Trump loyalist and former Fox & Friends star as the front-runner to succeed her.
According to three people with knowledge of the White House’s decision-making, Trump had known about Haley’s resignation days before the public announcement and had determined he wanted State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, above all others, to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The fact that Nauert was the front-runner before her name was leaked as one of several candidates underscores just how much her stock has risen in Trumpworld. Over the summer, Nauert was reportedly a top contender to be Trump’s next press secretary. Now she stands to be one of the most important American officials on the global stage.
Trump, in an interview with the press outside the White House on Friday, said he would announce his pick for the U.N. ambassadorship before the end of the year.
Although Trump has yet to make an official announcement about Nauert, staffers inside State say she seems to be in the midst of transitioning out of the department.
Over the past few weeks Nauert has stepped back from some of her day-to-day duties, staffers said, and has leaned on others, including, deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino, to fill in. According to the State Department’s public schedule, Nauert has not led a briefing since Oct. 11, two days after Haley’s resignation.
Nauert no longer has the title of acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, according to her bio on the State Department website. A State Department spokesperson said Nauert’s title changed on Oct. 10 because she had served the maximum period as allowed by federal law. The date also just happened to be the day immediately after Haley revealed she would soon depart her post.
“The Secretary has delegated to her the authorities to carry out all of the responsibilities of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in accordance with the Vacancies Act pending the nomination of a new Under Secretary,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement to The Daily Beast.
The expiration of Nauert’s time as acting secretary Oct. 10 did coincide with a massive reorganization inside the division of public diplomacy and public affairs, according to three staffers inside the State Department. The day of Haley’s public announcement, bureaus in the State Department that are overseen by Nauert received notice that some of their offices would merge with or partition from others.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spoken highly of Nauert and tells other senior officials that she would be a terrific fit for U.N. ambassador, current and former Trump administration officials say. The former Fox News star has taken shots both internally and from outside critics for her lack of experience and for having a paltry résumé compared to one typically befitting the leader of the American delegation to the U.N. However, Pompeo and Nauert have developed a mutual loyalty and rapport, and the secretary feels that Nauert’s rise would assure him a trusted ally in a critical role.
As for her stature on Team Trump, Nauert had earned the president’s attention long before he became leader of the free world. Trump had regularly watched her as a fixture on the conservative media behemoth Fox News, and would often say complimentary things about her style and segments, sometimes calling over people to watch Nauert on-screen, according to two friends of the president. In her past life, Nauert had interviewed Trump on the campaign trail, and even once emceed a ceremony in 2015 where he received an award.
In the years since, she’s maintained a warm relationship with Trump and members of his family. Personal loyalty and a Fox & Friends gig may not seem like the best reason to put somebody at the top of a U.N. ambassadorship shortlist—but to a fealty- and Fox- obsessed president like Trump those traits can make a world of difference.
Should Nauert ultimately get the U.N. gig, it would be another blow for a State Department that has struggled for two years to fill numerous key vacancies. Nauert started working as spokesperson for the State Department in April 2017. And she took on the additional role as acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs in March after Trump fired her predecessor Steve Goldstein.
But her tenure at State has not been without its hiccups or missteps, including a bizarre kerfuffle that since July has reverberated throughout various echelons of the administration, such as the West Wing, and was dubbed by one senior Trump administration official as “the Pompeo cheese incident.” It was prompted by a story published in Bloomberg by its State Department correspondent Nick Wadhams titled, “Inside Pompeo’s Fraught North Korea Trip,” which included a simple, blink-and-you-miss-it pair of sentences:
“By the morning of his second day, Pompeo had enough. Instead of the elaborate breakfast prepared for him, he ate toast and slices of processed cheese.”
Those two sentences sparked a minor crisis for Nauert. Pompeo, those close to him say, is acutely aware of media coverage of himself, cognizant of how other senior officials and cabinet secretaries have fallen out of favor with the president due to embarrassing or negative reporting on them. The president, a voracious consumer of media and TV, has also been known take unflattering tidbits from articles and use them to humiliate underlings and associates, say several people close to Trump.
According to three sources with knowledge of what transpired, Pompeo was absolutely livid when he read that Bloomberg had reported he’d eaten processed, Velveeta-style cheese during his diplomatic jaunt. He brought up the matter with Nauert and demanded a “head on a plate,” one source described.
Nauert hadn’t told Pompeo that one reason Bloomberg even had the processed cheese in its report was because she had told Wadhams to “put that in your story” when he asked about it during the North Korea trip, according to two sources familiar with what happened.
But when pressed by Pompeo, Nauert threw Wadhams under the bus, declining to reveal that she had approved the anecdote inclusion. The “head on a plate” that Nauert’s boss had called for was served up later that month. Following the North Korea trip, Wadhams was informed by State that he would not be allowed on Pompeo’s plane for then upcoming Helsinki summit, which also occurred in July.
Reached by email, both Wadhams and a Bloomberg spokesperson declined to comment to The Daily Beast. Certain details of this kerfuffle were reported in a Business Insider profile of Nauert that published in August, back when there was chatter of Nauert succeeding Sarah Huckabee Sanders as Trump’s press secretary.
Despite all the fuss—which many at State and in the department’s press pool saw as largely Nauert’s flub—it doesn’t seem to have diminished her standing in Pompeo’s eyes. Numerous sources say that the secretary of state is still actively supporting her in her potential ascendance to the U.N. ambassadorship, and that Nauert’s reputation in Trumpworld remains “gold-plated,” a source close to the president remarked.