WASHINGTON - Less than two years ago, Heather Nauert was working as an anchor on Donald Trump’s favorite news show, “Fox & Friends.”
Her rise since then has been stunning. Trump has now named her as his pick to become America’s voice and face at the United Nations.
After Trump was inaugurated as president in January 2017, Nauert became — with no experience in government, foreign policy or politics — the spokeswoman at the State Department.
When Trump fired media-shy Texas oilman Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state in March via tweet — their relationship by then bordered on poisonous — Nauert saw her influence grow under successor Mike Pompeo, whose combative style is more in tune with the president.
She also got a major promotion, becoming the acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, the fourth-highest official at the State Department.
Overnight she took charge of overseeing communication from U.S. diplomatic missions around the world as well as countering propaganda from the Islamic State movement and other foreign adversaries.
If confirmed by the Senate, the 48-year-old Nauert would replace Nikki Haley, who announced her resignation in October amid speculation of future political plans.
Haley similarly had little foreign policy experience when appointed, although she had a national name as the governor of South Carolina.
Nauert is likely to face questions about her thin diplomatic resume during a Senate confirmation hearing, but she stands a good chance of approval because after the new Congress begins in January, Republicans will have a 53-47 vote majority over Democrats in the Senate.
One former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, criticized the choice. Nauert’s job as spokeswoman at State is “to read talking points and explain policy,” McFaul tweeted. The job of U.N. ambassador is very different, he said, and usually requires foreign policy or diplomatic expertise or both.
Trump backer Sen. Lindsey Graham issued a statement praising Nauert, but his Republican colleagues who sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were silent.
Nauert’s appointment would reinforce the link between Fox News and Trump, who has been accused of turning to the conservative-leaning channel, rather than experts, for policy advice.
The television-loving president has chosen a series of Fox personalities for high-level posts and consultation.
Nauert covered domestic and international stories as an ABC News correspondent from 2005 to 2007 prior to joining Fox.
Originally from Wisconsin, she attended Mount Vernon College, a now-defunct all-women’s school in Washington, before graduating from the elite Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Trump announced the nomination in brief remarks to reporters. The president, who puts a premium on loyalty, earlier hailed Nauert as “a supporter for a long time — really, excellent.”
Under Tillerson, Nauert grew frustrated at not having close access to her immediate boss and had been seen as quitting to return to New York, where her family has remained.
But she has taken on a bolder role under Pompeo, assertively seeking to promote his message.
But unlike White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whose testy exchanges with reporters are routinely carried live, Nauert has enjoyed a civil relationship with the smaller State Department press corps as they travel the world together.
Nauert raised eyebrows in June when she appeared to describe the D-Day landings — when the United States, Britain and allies stormed Nazi-occupied France in 1944 — as evidence of a longtime “strong relationship” with Germany.
But the former television anchor has mostly avoided snafus, keeping regular press briefings concise and winning praise for her poise as she fields a dizzying array of foreign policy questions.
“Those I know who work with her remark frequently that she is more open than most Trump appointees to listening to and working with career diplomats,” said Brett Bruen, who served as White House director of global engagement under former President Barack Obama.
He added that colleagues described Nauert as a quick learner who “executed her functions capably.”
But Bruen, who now heads the Global Situation Room consulting firm, questioned whether Nauert was the best pick when “American influence on the world stage is at a historic low.”
“We need more than a smooth spokesperson. We need a seasoned, steady and strong voice who understands the subtleties of multinational diplomacy,” he said.
“I worry that we will grow ever more isolated on this, the most important of world stages,” he said.
Haley has had the task of promoting Trump’s “America First” agenda as the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord, the U.N. Human Rights Council and other agreements and institutions broadly supported by the 193 members of the United Nations.
Unlike Haley, however, Nauert is not expected to have Cabinet status, keeping power over foreign policy firmly with Pompeo and especially John Bolton, the hawkish White House national security adviser.
She does, however, have something in common with Bolton. He too was a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. — and caught Trump’s eye as a commentator on Fox News.