The Cable

Trump Taps Wealthy Political Donor, Philanthropist, as Next U.S. Ambassador to Canada

To help whether some stormy seas Trump brought to the U.S.-Canadian relationship.

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President Donald Trump has been brewing new tensions with America’s northern neighbor, bashing it on Twitter, straying from Canada on key policy issues like climate change, and threatening to scrap NAFTA. Now there’s a newly named U.S. envoy to deal with the fallout.

Trump announced his intent to nominate Kelly Knight Craft, a philanthropist and political donor from Kentucky with close ties to the coal industry, to be the next U.S. ambassador to Canada.

If confirmed by the Senate, Craft will take the helm of U.S. relations with Canada during one of its rockiest periods in recent history, thanks to Trump. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled a growing chasm between Ottawa and Washington in a speech before parliament earlier this month, arguing the United States “has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership.” She never mentioned Trump during her speech, but it was widely seen as a veiled criticism of the U.S. president’s controversial policies on trade, diplomacy, and commitments to NATO allies, including Canada.

Craft could also play a key hand in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, binding together the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican economies. The Trump administration likely wants Craft in place before mid-August, when NAFTA renegotiations are expected to begin.

Lawmakers and former officials have widely criticized the Trump administration for leaving key positions in the State Department empty, arguing it hampers U.S. foreign policy. Craft is one of the few names Trump has put forth for an ambassador posting, some five months into office.

Craft heads a business advisory firm based in Lexington, Kentucky and serves on the board of trustees for the University of Kentucky. In 2007, former President George W. Bush appointed her as a non-voting member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations.

If Craft is approved, she will be the first woman to hold the ambassadorship.

Her husband, Joseph W. Craft III, is a billionaire coal magnate who runs Alliance Resource Partners, L.P., one of the United States’ largest coal producers. Joe Craft donated millions of dollars to Republican political campaigns and super PACs in recent years, according to the Center for Public Integrity and OpenSecrets.org.

Craft and her husband also have close ties to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). When they met Trump on the campaign trail, they requested assurances from the then-presidential contender that he wouldn’t try to oust McConnell from his leadership role, Bloomberg reported.

The couple hosted a $1,000-per-plate dinner fundraiser for Trump in July.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman, who stepped down in January when Trump took office, hasn’t been shy in publicly bashing Trump on how he’s handling relations to Ottawa.

“It’s a huge mistake to take your best friend and next-door neighbor and start poking at them really hard,” Heyman told Bloomberg in April, calling Trump’s public trade spars with Canada “destructive.” Heyman, a former Goldman Sachs executive, was a political appointee under former President Barack Obama.

The White House announced its intent to nominate Craft for the role Wednesday evening.

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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