Trump's pick for ambassador to Canada vows to promote 'powerful' relationship

Kelly Knight Craft, nominated to become the U.S. ambassador to Canada, said in her opening statement at a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday that if confirmed, she would “be a respectful steward of this partnership with Canada.”

Craft previously ran a marketing consulting firm and served in the administration of George W. Bush as part of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. The Glasgow, Ky., native also serves on the board of directors at the University of Kentucky.

She pointed to her UN experience has the most relevant with respect to Canada.

“While observing several multilateral negotiation teams, I experienced how the American-Canadian relationship could be a powerful force around the world,” she said.

Her appointment would come at a crucial time.

On Monday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released a blueprint of objectives for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Formal talks are scheduled to begin Aug. 16.

Trump has talked often of how he perceives trade deals with other countries as unfair to the U.S., including NAFTA, and Craft appeared to give a nod in the president’s direction.

While Craft pledged to “work tirelessly to further enhance our strong economic partnership,” she also made note of her desire to ensure that in any deals with Canada, “American businesses and workers can compete on a level playing field.”

She also vowed to promote shared environment goals “from coast to coast to coast, as the Canadians say.” It was an interesting statement, given that the Trump agenda has promised steep cuts to the EPA budget, including to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program dedicated to looking after the environmental health of the Great Lakes.

kelly knight craft UN

Kelly Knight Craft is shown working for the U.S. delegation at the United Nations in 2007. (Courtesy of Glasgow Daily Times)

If confirmed, she would become the first woman to serve as ambassador to Canada, a role that has been filled for 90 years.

Craft was introduced at the Senate foreign relations committee hearing by Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate. The pair are well acquainted, as she was finance chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky earlier in the century.

Key posts yet to be filled

Since last year, she has been married to billionaire Joe Craft, CEO of Alliance Resource Partners LP, which the U.S. Department of Energy has ranked as one of the 10 largest coal mining producers in the country.

Crafts have donated healthily to Trump and other Republican candidates, not unusual for a candidate for what is often a patronage position. David Jacobson, a recent ambassador to Canada during the Democratic administration, had been a fundraiser for Barack Obama.

Craft was part of a joint session with four other nominess, including longtime Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the pick to be the ambassador to NATO, and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, tapped for the United Kingdom post.

Earlier this week, Callista Gingrich, wife of Newt Gingrich, faced questions after she was picked as ambassador to the Holy See in Vatican.

During his first 100 days, Trump had appointed just seven ambassadors, according to a report in the USA Today, compared to 16 at the same point in Obama’s tenure.

Nearly three months later, names for France, Germany and the European Union have still not been put forth.

While David Friedman (Israel), former Iowa governor Terry Brandstad (China), and former senator Scott Brown (New Zealand) are officially on the job, several others are awaiting confirmation, including former presidential candidate Jon Hunstman, picked for the Russia ambassadorship at a tumultuous time in relations between the countries.

Craft would succeed Bruce Heyman, who served from early 2014 until Jan. 18 of this year, the end of Obama’s second term.

Such a gap is not without precedent for Canada in modern times; in fact, it last happened after the previous change in administration between Republicans and Democrats.

David Wilkins, appointed ambassador to Canada by George W. Bush, served his tenure right up until the inauguration of Obama in January 2009. Confirmation hearings for David Jacobson then took place in August of that year and he officially began as ambassador of Canada in October.

By contrast, the posting to Ottawa was only officially vacant for a week before Paul Cellucci began serving in 2001. George W. Bush and the Republicans assumed control of the White House from the Democrats, but ambassador Gordon Giffin stayed in the post until April 2001.

Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. is David MacNaughton, who was been in the role since early 2016.

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