The United States ambassador to the U.N., former S.C. governor Nikki Haley, has often been the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues, on everything from military strikes on Syria to sanctions against Russia and how to approach human rights.
Much of that has come as a surprise to the State Department, and the Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, has often been far from the limelight.
Now, in an apparent attempt to foster greater coherence in U.S. foreign policy, State Department officials are urging her aides to ensure her public remarks are cleared by Washington first.
An email drafted by State Department diplomats urged Haley’s office to rely on “building blocks” written by the department to prepare her remarks.
Her comments should be “re-cleared with Washington if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue such as Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine, or the DPRK,” added the email, the text of which was seen by The Times. DPRK refers to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea.
The State Department and the U.S. mission at the United Nations did not respond to requests for comment.
The request underlines the vastly contrasting styles of the Trump administration’s two top diplomats, Haley and Tillerson, who will appear together for the first time on Friday at a Security Council meeting devoted to North Korea. It will be Tillerson’s first time inserting himself into Haley’s world since she so publicly entered his.
Haley is an outspoken former governor who has been on Sunday talk shows and given interviews to several television news outlets. Tillerson is a former oil company executive who has kept a noticeably low profile.
The contrast was on sharp display when Haley chaperoned the 14 members of the Security Council on a visit to the White House on Monday. Neither Tillerson nor any of his aides were present, with a spokesman explaining that his schedule “did not enable him to participate.”
Tillerson has skipped meetings with world leaders at the White House too, though he continues to spend considerable time with President Donald Trump. His defenders say that Tillerson is confident of the president’s support and that Tillerson does not believe he needs to appear in front of reporters or TV cameras to confirm his place as the nation’s chief diplomat.
“Any notion that there’s some kind of competition between Haley and Tillerson is laughable,” said James J. Carafano, a Heritage Foundation fellow and a member of the Trump transition team. “She’s filling a role and is comfortable in that role, and I don’t think Tillerson feels threatened by that.”
Haley has by no means replaced Tillerson as the administration’s preferred voice on foreign affairs, according to a top White House aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. Indeed, some in the White House see her as seeking a bit too much attention as the administration formulates its foreign policy, the official said, noting that it is not seen as a problem that needs an immediate solution.
The White House is riven by feuds, with various Cabinet members vying for prominence, and while Trump has a business-centric reverence for Tillerson, he is said to like Haley.
There was a hint of that tension on Monday during the White House lunch for the Security Council diplomats.
“Now, does everybody like Nikki?” the president asked his lunch guests. “Because if you don’t, otherwise, she can easily be replaced.”
The guests laughed a little. “No, we won’t do that, I promise,” the president said. “We won’t do that. She’s doing a fantastic job.”
That evening came praise from the president’s daughter Ivanka. On Twitter, she posted a photograph of Haley surrounded by the Security Council diplomats and wrote: “The world is in good hands under her leadership.” Haley retweeted it.
While Haley is a Cabinet-level official and within the State Department’s hierarchy, she would normally have four bosses, including an assistant secretary for international organizations who coordinates between New York and Washington. That role is currently filled in a temporary capacity by a career foreign service officer.
Bathsheba Crocker, who had the job during the Obama administration, said that she has been surprised to see Tillerson apparently defer to Haley, not only in public pronouncements but in the creation of policy.
“Tillerson is ceding ground where it’s a crucial part of the broader strategy,” Crocker said. “He seems to be deferring not only the day-to-day relationship with the U.N. secretary-general and the Security Council but on everything else involving the U.N.”
The White House visit Monday included a 90-minute lunch with Trump and photos in the Oval Office, along with a meeting with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
One Security Council diplomat who was not authorized to speak about the meeting said it seemed to be designed to show Haley’s centrality in the administration and her closeness to the president. She had not only taken charge of determining what the administration’s posture would be at the U.N., but expanded her portfolio broadly, the diplomat observed, on a range of foreign policy issues.
It was all the more remarkable because during the presidential campaign, Haley was one of Trump’s most outspoken Republican critics.