By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Wednesday that her relationship with President Donald Trump was “perfect” and that he did not need to be worried about Haley and Vice President Mike Pence running against him in 2020.
Her comments come amid unusual public friction between Haley, a former South Carolina governor who is known for her blunt diplomacy at the United Nations, and the White House.
Haley, a member of Trump’s cabinet, said on Sunday that Washington was preparing new sanctions on Russia over its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, Trump delayed further action, a senior administration official said.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Haley might have been confused about Washington’s plans, but Haley fired back on Tuesday: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.” Kudlow said he had apologized to Haley.
When asked on Wednesday about her relationship with Trump, Haley said: “It’s perfect.”
While former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shied away from the spotlight, Haley has carved out a high-profile role for herself in the Trump administration while at the same time ensuring that she publicly praises the president.
Her direct approach at the United Nations initially raised eyebrows among diplomats, but many acknowledge her political skills and speculate that she has ambitions for higher office.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Republicans close to the White House whisper about a possible joint campaign by Haley and Pence in 2020.
Trump, who is known to place a high premium on loyalty, has already declared he will run again in 2020.
When asked on Wednesday if Trump should be worried about a Pence/Haley campaign, Haley smiled, shook her head and said: “No.”
Pence’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Adding to the friction was Pence’s brief appointment of Haley’s senior aide Jon Lerner as his top adviser on foreign policy issues. Lerner withdrew on Sunday after a behind-the-scenes White House argument hit the headlines. He will continue working for Haley.
A senior administration official said that Haley had not been “freelancing” when she spoke about new Russian sanctions on Sunday. “The president just wanted to slow down the process after she spoke,” the official said.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he had not spoken with Haley about her remarks on sanctions. When asked if he believe Haley or the White House, Nebenzia said: “I believe in God. Let them sort it out themselves. It’s not our game.”
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Susan Thomas and Lisa Shumaker)