Ambassador Haley on Russia sanctions: 'I don't get confused'

U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley has come under fire from White House critics who accuse her of grandstanding for her own political aggrandizement for fighting back after she was a accused of being "confused" after getting ahead of the White House in announcing new sanctions on Russia.

Haley, whose presidential ambitions are no secret, fired back at new economic adviser Larry Kudlow's charge that she was confused about new administration sanctions on Russia, saying, "I do not get confused."  Trump has since indicated that he has decided to abandon plans to sanction Russia, but Haley refused to play the good soldier and accept blame for the crossed wires.


Haley didn't endure a presidential putdown, but Kudlow's comments – for which he later apologized – were in line with an apparent White House strategy to shift blame to Haley and shield the President.  Still, none of her colleagues have so publicly bristled at the egg on their faces.

For now at least, she is showing off her savvy in navigating the administration's ever shifting dynamics.  She appears to have emerged from the combative approach unscathed – a rare feat in Trump's orbit.

"It's clear that in situations like this she is prepared to defend herself – and publicly, if necessary," said John Negroponte, a former US ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

Another source close to Haley said the ambassador "isn't going to let the President run over her like some of these star-struck men around the White House let him do."

When asked by a reporter at the UN Wednesday about her relationship with Trump, Haley said, "It's perfect."

Haley, a former South Carolina governor who endorsed a Trump rival during her state's high profile presidential primary, is one of the administration's most prominent voices.  That's in part because of her penchant for speaking her mind, even when her views cause heartburn in the White House.

She insisted she would speak her mind when she joined the Trump's administration.  Before agreeing to accept a nomination as UN ambassador, Haley listed off a few conditions during a conversation with Trump.

"I said, 'I don't want to be a wallflower or a talking head.  I want to be able to speak my mind.' (Trump) said, 'That is why I asked you to do this,'" Haley told CNN last summer.

And since that conversation, Haley has spoken her mind – staking out tough positions on everything from racism in the US to policy regarding Russia, Syria and Iran, often teetering on the edge of the administration's position and her own.  But she had also always been cautious to avoid contradicting Trump, frequently touching base with him directly to coordinate her public messaging and remaining in his good graces.

Haley has been tough and very effective at the U.N., earning the respect of allies and Democrats on the Hill.  But is she untouchable?  While her presidential ambitions may worry some in the administration, it is doubtful she has her eye on the 2020 race.  No serious Republican does. 

But if Trump fired Haley, she would immediately assume a position as a leader of the GOP anti-Trump faction.  She may not run for president, but she would become the focus of Trump critics within the party who would use her to prop up whatever minor candidate ends up challenging the president.  In other words, she would become a lightning rod and a thorn in the side of the Trump re-election campaign.

Trump and his people don't need that kind of headache, so Haley is probably safe for now.  Besides, Trump appears to genuinely like and respect her.  And with two huge Trump foreign policy initiatives on the horizon – the meeting with North Korea's Kim and pulling out of the Iran deal – Haley will play a large role in promoting the administration's positions.