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Trump taps donor with deep coal ties for top U.N. position

Kelly Knight Craft has said she believes in "both sides" of the debate surrounding climate science.

Kelly Knight Craft. CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Kelly Knight Craft. CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Knight Craft, is a major supporter with deep ties to the coal industry who has argued that “both sides” of the climate science debate are equally valid.

In two tweets late Friday, Trump announced his nomination of Craft, currently Washington’s ambassador to Canada, whom he praised and congratulated.

“I am pleased to announce that Kelly Knight Craft, our current Ambassador to Canada, is being nominated to be United States Ambassador to the United Nations,” the president wrote.

“Kelly has done an outstanding job representing our Nation and I have no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level. Congratulations to Kelly and her entire family!”

Pending a Senate confirmation vote, Craft is now in line to succeed former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. Her selection comes after State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew her name from consideration, apparently over concerns that she would not be able to clear a confirmation process.

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In the Republican-controlled Senate, Craft may not see much of a confirmation hurdle, but she is likely to face scrutiny from Democrats over both her ties to Trump and her past comments on climate change.

Craft, a businesswoman, is a longtime Republican donor and the wife of a Kentucky coal magnate. Joe Craft is the CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, the third-largest coal producer in the eastern United States. In a 2010 interview, he argued there is “significant debate” over climate change and downplayed the impacts of global warming.

Collectively, the Crafts donated more than $1.5 million to the president and other Republicans in 2016, in addition to being repeat customers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. They are listed as gold-level members at the establishment and have stayed at least 20 times.

They have also remained close to the administration. Joe Craft, who railed against the Obama administration’s environmental efforts, cultivated a close relationship with former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt, whom he met with often. Pruitt notably initiated the mass rollback of numerous Obama-era environmental protections.

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Like her husband, Kelly Craft has courted controversy over her climate change skepticism. She has defended Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement and largely aligned herself with the administration’s approach to climate policy. In a controversial interview with the CBC in October 2017, Craft said she felt both climate scientists and skeptics alike have presented “accurate” data pertaining to human-driven global warming.

“I think that both sides have their own results, from their studies, and I appreciate and I respect both sides of the science,” she said, declining to give her own views on climate science.

That stance is increasingly at odds with national sentiment. Recent polling has shown that seven out of 10 Americans believe global warming is happening; meanwhile, the number of lawmakers in office who deny climate change is steadily decreasing. And proposals like the Green New Deal resolution pushed by progressive lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) contain suggestions that poll well with the U.S. public.

But Craft has notable support in the Senate from Republicans and from the administration — Sec. of State Mike Pompeo has expressed enthusiasm for Craft, as has Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY). The senior lawmaker recommended Craft for the U.N. position and called her a “strong advocate for American interests” in a statement backing her candidacy.

“She has a long record of service to her state and the nation and I’m confident she will continue to serve with distinction as America’s voice to the world at the United Nations,” said McConnell.

Lawmakers showed Craft solid support for her nomination as ambassador to Ottawa, confirming her by a unanimous vote in August 2017.