South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is being considered for secretary of state in a Trump administration, has an unusual background for the job: No foreign policy experience.
But Capitol Hill lawmakers and South Carolinians said she’d be a strong addition to the team because of her stature in the Republican party and her background as one of the few minorities and women being considered.
Haley, who ran as a jobs governor in 2010 and is in her second and final term, could be considered for other administration jobs, including secretary of commerce or an ambassadorship.
“She’s done a good job as governor of South Carolina,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “She’s talented, capable and would do a good job in any assignment given to her.”
“I think she’s a competent person. She is competent and worthy of being considered,” said Richard Riley, former South Carolina governor who worked in President Bill Clinton’s administration. “It’s a big job, not only putting together a Cabinet but then you have 4,000 sub-cabinets that make the government run. I hope he’ll pick good people.”
Even some seasoned foreign policy experts say they don’t think Haley’s lack of foreign policy experience should stop her from serving as the nation’s top diplomat.
“I don’t think that not having any direct foreign policy experience should necessarily be a disqualifier for the secretary of state position, as long as the candidate is globally minded, knows how to negotiate ... and understands the national interests of the United States,” said Barry Pavel, vice president and director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank.
Other Democrats, however, disagreed. S.C. Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison said Haley is not prepared to be secretary of state. “The question is, does she have any foreign policy experience?” said Harrison. “I don’t think so.”
Donald Trump met with Haley on Thursday in New York City, where the president-elect has been holed up for days interviewing potential appointees and soliciting advice. S.C. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster said the meeting went well, though he did not go into specifics.
Others being considered for secretary of state are New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. Trump is scheduled to meet Saturday with Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, who is also being considered.
Trump’s aides have not said when he will make an announcement, but the president-elect has given priority to national security appointments. On Friday, he named his choices for national security adviser, CIA director and attorney general.
During the campaign, Haley clashed with Trump over several proposals, including a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. In January, when Haley gave the GOP response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, she criticized some in her party, urging people to resist “the siren call of the angriest voices.”
Haley initially supported Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for president. After it became apparent Trump was the nominee, she said she would back him.
Trump is “talking about inclusion.... So far he’s done well,” Haley told reporters this week while at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Orlando. She said she hoped Trump “continues to be disciplined in his comments.”
Most of all, she was pleased that finally, there’s a Republican in the White House during her governorship. “The idea that now we can start to really govern – I have never known what it’s like to have a Republican president,” she said.
Haley’s predecessor as South Carolina governor, Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., implied that her background was a main reason she was being considered. Haley is the first Indian-American and first woman to run the state, and would bring some much-needed diversity to Trump’s potential cabinet picks, which have been predominantly white and male.
“I don’t think the Cabinet needs to look like a Benetton commercial, but I think having folks of different ethnic backgrounds matters, particularly in that role,” he told MSNBC on Thursday about Haley potentially being appointed to the State Department. “Given we’re 5 percent of the world’s population and most of the world doesn’t look like us.”
The Trump meeting came a day after Haley was named vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, a nationally visible post that puts her in line to become the chair of the association in 2018.
“She’s a female elected governor in the Deep South, who has a good record of economic development,” said South Carolina political consultant Richard Quinn. “It does not take a lot of imagination to see why he would want her. ... I would be very surprised if she wasn’t offered something.”
Graham noted that Haley’s husband served in Afghanistan as a member of the South Carolina National Guard, but admitted he didn’t know much about her foreign policy views.
“I think Nikki is a traditional Republican when it comes to foreign policy – more like Ronald Reagan than Rand Paul. I like her a lot,” he said. “I would certainly support her.”
Corker, who would lead the confirmation hearing for the appointee, said he couldn’t comment on Haley.
“I’m not going to handicap people,” he said when asked whether he questioned appointing someone with no foreign policy experience.
Haley was in Washington on Friday to speak to the convention of the conservative Federalist Society, where she was occasionally critical of Trump’s campaign style.
She said that Trump won election as president by running against both political parties.
His victory offers Republicans a chance to regain the public’s trust, but only if the party restrains spending and returns power to the states, she said. Voters rejected “the political class of all stripes, Republicans included.”
She said Republican control of the White House and Congress offers the party a rare opportunity, and that it’s important for Trump and Republican leaders in Congress act quickly, and “we don’t stop.”
Haley acknowledges that she was not Trump’s “biggest cheerleader.” But she said she voted for him and was thrilled that he won.
Vera Bergengruen and Cassie Cope of the State contributed.
Marchant reported from Columbia, S.C.