Nikki Haley will leave her job as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the end of the year, President Donald Trump said at the White House on Tuesday.
Trump said Haley told him six months ago she wanted a break after spending two years in the post. “She’s done a fantastic job and we’ve done a fantastic job together,” Trump said.
Haley is a former governor of South Carolina who has repeatedly deflected speculation that she might harbor presidential aspirations of her own. “It has been the honor of a lifetime,” she said in the Oval Office, thanking Trump.
“No, I am not running in 2020,” she said. She would campaign for Trump, she added.
Haley’s decision surprised several senior White House aides, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Vice President Mike Pence. Trump teased an announcement less than an hour before his appearance with Haley, after news organizations began reporting she would resign.
Her resignation was first reported by Axios. Several senior White House aides wondered about the timing of her decision, weeks before midterm congressional elections.
The former South Carolina governor has been a strong advocate of Trump’s foreign policy. On her first day as UN ambassador she warned, “for those that don’t have our back, we’re taking names. We will make points to respond to that accordingly.”
After a frosty relationship with Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first secretary of state, she and Tillerson’s successor, Mike Pompeo, often exchanged mutual praise.
She backed Trump’s efforts to cut off funds for the UN organization that aids Palestinians and joined in his attacks on Iran. But she also hinted at her disagreements with the president, saying she had a “personal conversation” with Trump about his response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last year.
There has been frequent speculation that Haley harbors her own presidential ambitions. She’s repeatedly insisted that she is focused on the job at hand, not future opportunities.
After an anonymous U.S. official published an op-ed last month declaring that there was an internal resistance to Trump’s policies, Haley published her own op-ed in the Washington Post declaring her fealty to the president.
“I don’t agree with the president on everything,” Haley wrote in her Sept. 7 op-ed. “When there is disagreement, there is a right way and a wrong way to address it. I pick up the phone and call him or meet with him in person.”
Tensions bubbled up between Haley and Trump in April when Vice President Mike Pence hired a long-time Haley aide and Republican pollster as his national security adviser, prompting speculation that Haley and Pence were forging a political alliance, White House advisers said. The aide, Jon Lerner, who was planning to split his time between working for Haley and Pence, withdrew his name from consideration after backlash from within the White House.
Trump advisers outside the White House have assumed Haley would have her own presidential aspirations at some point, but doubt she would mount a run against Trump in 2020.