WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate voted 56-34 Wednesday to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, approving a longtime Republican donor with family ties to the coal industry.
Kelly Knight Craft, formerly the ambassador to Canada, replaces Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor turned U.N. ambassador who resigned last October.
Craft’s nomination was championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who deemed her a “phenomenal selection” after a contentious nomination hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The controversy around Craft’s nomination was centered on various aspects of her personal and professional history. Her husband is billionaire coal magnate Joseph Craft III, CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, the third largest producer of coal in the United States.
Together, the couple has buoyed many Republican political campaigns in the Bluegrass State over the years – including those of McConnell and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin.
Alliance, worth some $900 million, also donated heavily to other Republican lawmakers like U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Todd Young of Indiana and Mitt Romney of Utah – all of whom sat on the committee that advanced Craft in June.
Since 2016, the Crafts have donated at least $1.2 million to political action committees and Republican state parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Craft’s flip-flopping on issues like climate change have also prompted scrutiny. In an interview with the Canadian television network CBC in 2017, Craft said she was unsure whether humans contributed to global warming.
Short of denying climate science outright, Craft said at the time: “I think that both sides, you know, have their own results from their studies and I appreciate and respect both sides of the science.”
But during her confirmation hearing, Craft told lawmakers climate change posed a “real risk” and that as U.N. ambassador, she would serve as an “advocate in addressing climate change.” Craft also promised to recuse herself from matters at the U.N. that may directly involve or impact the coal industry.
According to financial disclosures provided to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Craft has over $63 million in oil and gas assets and holds the rights to coal mines in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Though it did not stop her from being confirmed by the full Senate Wednesday, Democrats who voted against the nomination, like Bob Menendez of New Jersey, cited Craft’s rampant absenteeism at her post as a point of contention.
According to a Democratic report based on flight logs, calendars, travel records and other government records, Craft spent months away from her post in Canada and instead stayed at homes in Oklahoma and Kentucky. She often traveled without State Department approval and stayed regular at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., racking up a total of 29 days lodged there.
Craft also involved her husband in official meetings with energy officials from the United States and Canada. According to emails obtained by the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act and later provided to the Associated Press, Craft also copied her husband on discussions with former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and members of the State Department.
The correspondence was related to federal funding for a clean-up project at the Great Lakes. The State Department defended the exchange, saying Joe Craft “played a role in facilitating the exchange.”
A representative from the State Department did not immediately respond to request for comment Wednesday.