Kelly Craft, President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pledged Wednesday to be an “advocate for all countries to do their part in addressing climate change” — a stance at odds with the White House and Trump, who has questioned a human role.
Craft, who faced skepticism from Democratic senators for earlier remarks on climate change, sought to head off the debate, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at her confirmation hearing that “climate change needs to be addressed, as it poses real risks to our planet.
“Human behavior has contributed to the changing climate. Let there be no doubt: I take this matter seriously, and if confirmed, I will be an advocate for all countries to do their part in addressing climate change,” she said.
The position is sharply different from that of Trump, who told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in October that he believed “something’s happening,” but that “it’ll change back again. I don’t think it’s a hoax, I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s man-made.”
Craft, however, did defend Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord and said she does not believe “the United States should imperil American jobs—or our economy as a whole—by assuming an outsized burden on behalf of the rest of the world.
“We need to balance the American economy with the climate,” she said.
Her remarks came as the Trump administration rolled back one of President Obama’s signature climate change initiatives, making it easier for coal-powered power plants to remain open. Environmentalists warned the move would make it harder to address climate change.
Craft’s husband’s role in the energy industry and her remarks in 2017 that she believed “both sides of the science” had merit in the climate debate had drawn scrutiny from diplomats at the UN — where climate science is no longer subject to disagreement — and among Democratic senators on the committee who asked for assurances that she “will put our nation’s interests ahead of your personal financial interests.”
Craft told Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, that she would comply with ethics regulations and recuse herself from coal discussions at the UN. Her husband, Joe Craft, is CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, one of the largest U.S. coal producers.
Pressed by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, the committee’s top Democrat, who said he had “deep reservations” about her diplomatic experience, Craft pledged to turn over all her travel records for her position as U.S. ambassador to Canada, following a Politico report that she spent much time away from Ottawa.
Menendez and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said they had concerns about what they said was Craft’s “excessive travel” away from her post. Menendez characterized an “extraordinary number of absences,” saying that she spent more than 300 days away from her post in Ottawa.
Craft insisted she had not traveled without State Department approval and several Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, came to Craft’s defense, insisting that she was traveling on business and helping the U.S. negotiate a new trade alliance with Canada and Mexico.
“I have a sneaking suspicion that having you here (for trade talks) or having you attend a cocktail party at some embassy, we would prefer you would prioritize the trade deal,” Rubio said.
The skirmish with Menendez — who set up posters that he said indicated the number of days Craft was away from her post — followed a lavish introduction from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said he is “confident our entire nation will be proud of the fine service” that Craft would deliver.
McConnell championed the nomination of Craft, his fellow Kentucky Republican before Trump and the committee.
McConnell did not address the travel question, but noted that historically the post to Canada “is not one that is typically viewed as one of the tougher assignments in the diplomatic corps. But as it would turn out, Ambassador Craft’s tenure brought a host of tough issues and thorny questions to the fore.”
Several officials in Canada, where Craft has served as U.S. ambassador under Trump, provided the Senate with supportive statements.
They include a congratulatory note from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who thanked Craft for what he said was her “dedication to building on the strong relationship between our two countries.” Trudeau singled out what he said was Craft’s help in “securing a new North American trade deal that increases the prosperity of both Canada and the United States.”
Craft began serving as ambassador to Canada in October 2017, plunging into the trade negotiations on behalf of Trump, who was deeply unpopular in the country.
“You have always been friendly, professional, and respectful and I’ve appreciated working together these past two years,” Trudeau said of Craft.
Craft had little diplomatic experience when Trump nominated her for the Canadian post, which is traditionally given to political donors. Craft and her husband contributed to a committee backing Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and served on his inaugural committee.
Craft has given campaign contributions to several Republicans on the foreign relations committee, including Rubio. She has been an influential fundraiser in Kentucky with deep ties to Republicans in the state, including McConnell, who pitched Craft to Trump as a UN pick after Trump’s first choice, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew her nomination partly due to issues that arose around a nanny she once employed.
If confirmed, Craft will replace Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina.