Nikki Haley was confirmed on January 24, 2017 to become the U.S. representative to the United Nations by a 96-4 Senate vote.
“Not white enough to be white, not black enough to be black,” is a description she often uses to describe her struggles growing up.
Haley, 44, was born Nimrata Randhawa (Nikki is a nickname meaning “little one”) to Punjabi Sikh immigrants in Bamberg, South Carolina, a town of 3,600 people as of 2010. While she is quick to defend her hometown, growing up Indian-American in a half-black, half-white environment characterized by deep racial tensions could be difficult: she and her older sister were disqualified from a beauty pageant when Haley was 4, because there was no room for them in a scheme that awarded one crown to a black contestant and one to a white one.
Haley began helping with bookkeeping in her mother’s shop at age 12. This biographical detail, along with the ideology she subsequently developed, prompted the Economist to compare her to Margaret Thatcher, the famous fiscal conservative who led Britain during the 1980s. Having served three two-year terms in the South Carolina House, Haley rode the Tea Party wave to the governor’s mansion in the 2010. She was helped along by an endorsement from Sarah Palin, who called her “a strong pro-life, pro-Second Amendment fiscal conservative."
Her legislative accomplishments made her the rising star in the GOP. In 2011, she signed South Carolina’s Voter ID law making it necessary to show photo identification at polling booths, and in 2016 she banned abortions in the state after a 20 week period except in cases of "terminal anomaly" of the fetus.
During her first term as Governor, Haley issued report cards for Senators in South Carolina detailing their voting records on issues and also giving them a grade, embarrassing many including Republicans. In 2015, the Washington Post reported that her website turned into a ‘wall of shame’ with voting records of senators that didn’t deliver as per her expectations.
Perhaps, the most defining moment in Haley’s governorship came on June 17, 2015, the day 9 people were gunned down inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The Charleston massacre, as it is now known, sparked national outrage. Haley, who had previously defended flying the confederate flag on the State House grounds, led the bipartisan effort to bring it down and signed a bill to that effect on July 9, 2015.
A little over a month later, at a crucial speech about race in the wake of the Charleston killings, Haley outlined the GOP’s shortcomings: “The problem for our party is that our approach often appears cold and unwelcoming to minorities. That is shameful, and it has to change.” She took aim at her own party and the state of the Presidential race. In the same speech, she mentioned that immigrants are welcome in the country but cautioned against illegal immigration: “We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion.”
That remark earned her the tag of being "weak on immigration" from then Presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Immigration is not the only time Haley has differed from Trump. In her very first address to the United Nations as U.S. Ambassador, Haley took a hard line against Russia, calling for an end to Russian involvement and occupation of Crimea. She also reiterated that U.S. sanctions on Russia would remain till that happens, putting an end to the speculation of where President Trump would go soft on Russian sanctions. Earlier during her confirmation hearing she had said that Russia could not be trusted.
Before she was his choice for the United States Ambassador to the U.N., Haley was a vociferous critic of Trump. She had initially endorsed Marco Rubio, but eventually said she would be voting for Trump even though she was ‘not a fan’.
She changed her tune, when she visited him in Washington to discuss her inclusion in the government. “He was a friend and supporter before he ran for president, and was kind to me then. But when I see something I am uncomfortable with, I say it,” she said according to the Washington Post. “When we met, it was friends who had known each other before.”