WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Democrats made clear their contempt Wednesday for the lack of diplomatic experience evinced by the woman slated to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
President Donald Trump tapped Kelly Craft for the post in February after a visa controversy sidelined his first pick, former Fox News host and State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
Though Craft has little actual political experience, she is married to the billionaire president of the major coal company Alliance Resource Partners. The couple donated $2 million to Trump’s 2016 election campaign, and Kelly Craft was given the post of ambassador to Canada the following year.
Diplomatic posts are not unusual for big donors, and Craft served as an alternate delegate to the United Nations in 2007 after supporting then-President George W. Bush in 2004.
As the Senate Judiciary Committee took up Craft’s latest nomination today, the hearing was opened by her home-state senator, Mitch McConnell.
Defending Craft’s experience, McConnell argued that she played a key role in the Trump administration’s three-way trade deal with Mexico and Canada.
Craft has faced harsh criticism for her opinions on climate change, an issue the U.N. defines as unprecedented in scale with costly implications for the future of the planet.
“I believe there are scientists on both sides that are accurate,” Craft told Canadian television interviewers in 2017 when asked if she believes in climate change.
Though Craft acknowledged the reality of climate change before the committee Wednesday, she said the U.S. should not assume an outsized burden in reducing greenhouse gases or implementing policies that imperil American jobs.
When asked by Ranking Member Bob Menedez to define the most pressing international crisis facing the U.S. today, Craft answered she looks at every issue that involves an innocent civilian as a crisis.
Menendez was critical, however, that Craft did not point specifically to issues like ongoing threats from Iran, continued nuclear proliferation by North Korea and the immigration crisis out of Venezuela.
“Those are minimally some of the hotspots in the world right now,” he said. “These are the types of issues you will be called upon.”
Another point that roiled the committee was that Craft logged more than 300 days away from the U.S. Embassy in Canada, representing nearly half of her two-year tenure.
What Democrats characterized as an abdication of leadership, however, Republicans saw as a committed work ethic.
“I guess if you were not a very good ambassador, they might well have just left you in Ottawa,” said Senator Ted Cruz who argued that Craft was often in Washington working on trade negotiations.
Menendez and his fellow Democrats repeatedly questioned whether Craft could effectively negotiate on climate change given her ties to fossil fuels.
Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon noted in particular that Alliance Resource Partners lobbied the Environmental Protection Agency to implement policies that benefit polluting industries at the cost of clean water and air.
Craft said the country can count on her to avoid a conflict of interest.
“Where coal is part of the conversation of climate change at the U.N., I will recuse myself,” Craft said.
Though Craft acknowledged that fossil fuels play a role in rising global temperatures, she repeated throughout the hearing that she does not believe the U.S. must be a signatory of the Paris agreement to continue to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
She also faced bipartisan questioning on the U.N. investigative report out Wednesday on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Democratic Senator Tim Kaine pressed Craft to promise that when the U.S. heads off the U.N. Security Council beginning in September she would do everything in her power to hold the guilty parties accountable.
“We will follow this investigation where it takes us,” Craft said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he supports the report’s finding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was directly tied to Khashoggi’s extrajudicial killing.
“It wouldn’t have happened without him,” Graham said. “He knew it was going to happen. He wanted it to happen.”
Graham asked that Craft read the report and inform him if she agrees the crown prince is responsible.
In responding to Democratic Senator Christopher Coons’ question on whether the president’s Middle East plan includes a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, Craft said she had not been part of the peace process to date but that she would promote Israel normalizing themselves at the U.N.
Craft echoed Trump’s last U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, in stating that the U.S. will not allow the U.N. Human Rights Council to constantly undermine Israel with anti-Semitic rhetoric. The ambassador post has been open since Haley bowed out of the role last year.