Spokesperson Heather Nauert
Credit: U.S. Department of State/Flickr

When Fox & Friends host Heather Nauert was appointed as the Spokesperson for the Department of State, there was groaning from all corners. The career diplomats saw her as completely unqualified as she had no political, governmental or foreign policy experience whatsoever. The incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson perceived her as little more than a spy for the White House and shut her out so completely that she seriously considered resigning from the position.

Under Tillerson, the daily State Department briefing was eliminated, replaced with two briefings per week. By all accounts, Nauert worked hard to get up to speed on the international topics she was hired to discuss, but she still struggled to stay conversant.

“She presents herself very well, the camera loves her, she looks great when she briefs, she’s very poised,” the senior department official said of Nauert. “On the substance, it’s been a very tough road. She requires a lot of hand-holding, and getting her up to speed on the issues requires us having to brief her over and over, often on the same issues because she doesn’t absorb the information well.”

Her fortunes improved immediately when President Trump fired Tillerson at the end of March 2018. Along with Tillerson, Trump also cashiered Steve Goldstein, the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. He then gave that position to Nauert without replacing her as the Department’s spokesperson.

Some foreign policy experts and former State Department officials argue Nauert is ill-prepared to lead US efforts to thwart ISIS propaganda and Russian disinformation, guide state-run media on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and oversee some 275 US embassies and consulates around the world. They say she simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to handle these significant responsibilities on top of her job as spokeswoman.

“Even on an acting basis, having Heather run a billion-dollar strategic communications operation is a massive mismatch of skills and of the kind of strategy that we need as a country,” said Brett Bruen, the former White House director of global engagement under former President Barack Obama, adding that her selection as under-secretary is “reflective of a deep distrust that the White House has of diplomats.”

Tara Sonenshine, a former under-secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs under Obama, said it’s nearly impossible to be both spokesperson and under-secretary simultaneously, given the travel demands and differing nature of the roles.

“I’m not sure how one could physically do all of it, unless you have incredibly strong people and you can be in two places at once,” she said.

Nauert first came to prominence during the Lewinsky scandal when she was introduced as one of a phalanx of blond critics of Bill Clinton along with Barbara Olson, Kellyanne Conway, and Ann Coulter. She caught the eye of the executive producer of Fox News Bill Shine. When Shine accepted a job as Trump’s White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications after being forced out at Fox News in the sexual harassment scandal, speculation arose that Nauert would replace Sarah Huckabee Sanders as the administration’s press secretary.

What happened instead is appalling. Trump has decided to make her the next Ambassador to the United Nations.

President Donald Trump has told advisers that Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, is his leading choice to become US ambassador to the United Nations and he could offer the post as soon as this week, two sources familiar with his pick told CNN.

If named Nauert, who met with Trump Monday, would leave her role at the State Department to take over from Nikki Haley, who surprised White House officials last month when she announced her decision to step down at the end of the year.

If nominated and confirmed, she will join a list that includes Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Adlai Stevenson, George H.W. Bush, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Andrew Young, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke.

Trump turned to Nauert after Dina Powell took her name out of contention. It’s worth looking at the contrast in the two women’s preparation for the job of UN ambassador.

Nauert is trained in communications and journalism, having gained degrees in those fields from the Mount Vernon College for Women and Columbia University. She spent her pre-government career as a correspondent and on-air pontificator.

Powell, who is fluent in Arabic, worked as a legislative assistant while earning a degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She then did an internship with U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and landed a permanent job working for Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey. After that, she became the Director of Congressional Affairs for the Republican National Committee and then entered the Bush administration as Deputy Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel. Her work on foreign policy began in 2005 when she took the job of Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. During the Trump administration, she has filled the roles of Senior Advisor to the President for Entrepreneurship, Economic Growth and the Empowerment of Women and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy. In the latter position, she has attended both the Principals and Deputies Committee meetings of the National Security Council.

There’s an enormous contrast here, obviously, and Powell and Nauert do not belong in the same universe as applicants.

Nauert has been serving as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in an acting or interim capacity, largely because it might have been hard to get her confirmed to the position.

While some believe Nauert will fill the under-secretary role temporarily, she may face difficulty being confirmed by the Senate if she’s nominated for the position. [Sarah Huckabee] Sanders said she wouldn’t be surprised if Nauert was nominated, but that Trump would “lean on the recommendation and the preference of the secretary and allow him to make that determination.”

“Nobody wants to hold her if she gets sent up here, but there’s a very real chance that somebody will because there are broad doubts about her qualifications,” said a senior Republican Senate staffer, who requested anonymity to avoid jeopardizing relations with State. The staffer claimed that Nauert was put in the job largely to assuage concerns about high-level vacancies at the department.

No doubt, Nauert has gained some valuable experience during her two years at the State Department–she’s not starting at zero anymore–but it’s ludicrous to think that she’s the best or even a minimally acceptable choice for a cabinet-level position as ambassador to the United Nations.

She is not prepared and does not have the fluency of foreign affairs she needs to do the job and adequately represent to the United States on the world stage. She doesn’t even know basic historical facts, which became evident in June when she said that invasion of Normandy was some kind of predicate for the strong relationship our country has with Germany.

Honestly, I thought Nikky Haley was grossly underprepared for the job of UN Secretary and that she had only been chosen to create an opening for a Trumpist to take over the governor’s mansion in South Carolina. But Haley’s credentials far exceeded Nauert’s. It might be that the only credential that matters right now is that the person be willing to take the job knowing that Trump’s presidency is headed for the choppiest of waters as soon as the midterm elections are over.

I don’t want to go too far in disrespecting Heather Nauert. She has some smarts and some talent and a little bit of relevant experience, and I respect that she’s willing to serve her country. She’s more than just a Fox & Friends host.

But she’s still a Fox & Friends host.  If the Senate confirms her, they will be doing everyone a disservice, including Ms. Nauert.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com