Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in 2017. Credit: Reuters

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley resigned on Tuesday morning, catching senior White House staff off-guard and leaving pundits speculating about ulterior motives, despite assurances by President Trump and Haley that the move had been planned.

Announcing Haley's resignation in a joint photo op on Tuesday, President Trump said that he would be ready to name a replacement in a few weeks. This suggested the move hadn't been planned that much.

"Something doesn't smell right," said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) on MSNBC. "Something's weird."

Haley, who has been on the job since Trump's inauguration, will leave at the end of the year. "As a strong supporter of term limits, I have long believed that rotation in office benefits the public," Haley said in her resignation letter to Trump, which was dated Oct. 3. "As a businessman, I expect you will appreciate my sense that returning from government to the private sector is not a step down but a step up."

 

At the photo op, Haley said she wasn't sure exactly what she would be doing. She immediately worked to tamp down speculation that she would run for president in 2020, saying she would support Trump.

Several political analysts observed that Haley leaving 28 days before the midterm elections wasn't great optics. They speculated that Trump planned to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the midterms and install Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as his replacement, leaving an open seat to which Haley, the former South Carolina governor, could be appointed. Although her resignation letter was dated last week, Haley made her public announcement one day after the Washington ethics watchdog group CREW called for an investigation into her acceptance of free flights on private jets.

Although Haley drew praise for her performance at the UN — winning bipartisan approval for using firm language against Russia when the president would not — she found herself isolated from a White House in which nationalism is a higher priority than the United Nations. Trump also enjoys a closer relationship with new Secretary of State Joe Pompeo than he did with Pompeo's predecessor, Rex Tillerson, which further marginalized Haley in foreign affairs.

And although Haley is often cited as the rare senior Trump official to escape public embarrassment at the president's Twitter hand, she was in the U.S. chair when Trump drew derisive laughter during his speech before the U.N. General Assembly last month.

As for Haley's replacement: Citing three sources, CNBC reported that White House officials had approached former national security adviser Dina Powell about taking the job. CNN speculated that first daughter Ivanka Trump was being eyed. "How good would Ivanka be?" President Trump said on the White House lawn Tuesday afternoon, after noting that Powell was being considered. "I think Ivanka would be incredible but it doesn't mean I'd pick her. You'd be accused of nepotism."

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