PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP/WOOD) — President-elect Donald Trump has chosen South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and prominent charter school advocate Betsy DeVos as his secretary of education, the first women selected for top-level administration posts in his new administration.
Both Cabinet-level positions require Senate confirmation.
While some cheered Haley’s selection, despite her limited experience on the international stage, the DeVos choice faced criticism even before it was formally announced on Wednesday afternoon. Conservatives warned that DeVos, a longtime Republican donor, previously supported the Common Core education standards that Trump railed against during the campaign.
Trump called DeVos “a brilliant and passionate education advocate” in a Wednesday statement.
“Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families,” the incoming president said.
“We congratulate Betsy and wish her all the best. (We’re) looking forward to continuing our work with her and helping to use the GRPS Transformation Plan success story as inspiration for urban education improvements nationally,” said Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.
Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, is the only minority member chosen by Trump so far.
“Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in a statement. “She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”
While Haley has limited foreign policy experience, Trump said he was impressed with her knowledge of global affairs. Spokesman Jason Miller also said the two had “a natural chemistry.”
DeVos, from West Michigan, is a longtime advocate for charter schools and school vouchers. She leads the advocacy group, American Federation for Children.
“The status quo in education is not acceptable,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “Together, we can work to make transformational change that ensures every student in America has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.”
The DeVos family has been active in Republican politics for decades, especially as donors to GOP candidates and the Republican Party. DeVos’ husband, Dick, is an heir to the Amway fortune and a former president of the company.
The couple gave $22.5 million to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington in 2010, at the time the largest private donation in the center’s history.
Hours before the DeVos pick was announced, conservative policy leader Frank Cannon, president of American Principles Project, called her “an establishment, pro-Common Core secretary of education.”
“This would not qualify as ‘draining the swamp,'” Cannon said, referencing Trump’s campaign trail slogan. “And it seems to fly in the face of what Trump has stated on education policy up to this point.”
There was less immediate opposition to Haley’s selection.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham praised his home-state governor as a good choice and said in a statement that he looks forward to working with her on “overdue reforms of the United Nations.” Graham is chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Operations Subcommittee on Appropriations, which is responsible for funding the UN and all American foreign assistance.
Haley said she accepted the assignment partly out of “a sense of duty.”
“When the president believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation’s standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed,” she said in a statement.
Not all presidents have treated the ambassadorship to the U.N. as a Cabinet-level position, and Republicans have tended not to grant that status.
Miller said Trump is “spending significant time” weighing his choice for secretary of state. Among those he has interviewed is 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who repeatedly denounced Trump during the 2016 campaign.
After secretary of state, the UN ambassador is the highest-profile diplomatic position, often serving as the voice for U.S. positions on the international stage. As part of the Cabinet, Haley would have more opportunity to shape U.S. policies, rather than simply defend the administration’s positions.
Yet it could be an awkward role at times. Trump campaigned on the theme of “America first” and said he is skeptical about “international unions that tie us up and bring America down.” Trump has also described the United Nations as weak and incompetent.
Haley would be the third consecutive female U.S. ambassador to the UN, after Susan Rice and Samantha Power, the current ambassador.
Haley’s new job clears the way for Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster to step into the role of South Carolina governor. McMaster was an early Trump endorser, backing him before the state’s GOP primary in February.
Bad blood between Trump and Haley was evident through much of the campaign.
“The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” Trump wrote on Twitter in March. Haley denounced several of Trump’s campaign comments and urged voters to “reject the siren call of the angriest voices.”
DeVos, too, was slow to warm to Trump.
She told The Associated Press in July, “A lot of the things he has said are very off-putting and concerning.”
Trump is spending Thanksgiving with his family at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
Associated Press writers Gary Fineout in Tallahassee and Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.