Nikki Haley Pokes Fun at Trump, and Herself, at Annual Al Smith Dinner

Haley is the daughter of immigrants from India, who grew up in the South and became South Carolina’s first female governor and first minority governor. She had a little fun with that, too.


Nikki Haley joked about President Donald Trump’s braggadocio in his U.N. speech last month. Once, she said, he asked if she belonged to the same Native American tribe as Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And as a member of Trump’s Cabinet, she added, “It is a thrill to be out to dinner without being harassed.”

For about 17 minutes Thursday night in the New York Hilton ballroom, Haley, Trump’s soon-to-be-leaving ambassador to the United Nations, tried her hand at one-liners before a crowd of 700 guests at the annual Al Smith charity dinner, a high-powered event of the political and Roman Catholic elite hosted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

It was a sort of let-loose opportunity for Haley, 46, a Republican star who is widely thought to have presidential ambitions — although she has dismissed the idea of running against Trump, with whom she appears to have a good relationship.

Still, it remains unclear precisely why Haley is leaving her U.N. post after less than two years, and her monologue did nothing to provide answers.

But she joked about it. Having breakfast with Dolan a few weeks ago to prepare for her speech, she told the crowd, “I asked, ‘Was there anything I could do to really boost attendance?’ And he said, ‘Why don’t you resign as U.N. ambassador?’”

Haley said the president also called her with some advice.

“Just brag about my accomplishments,” she quoted him as recommending. “It really killed at the U.N., I’ve got to tell you.”

Haley is the daughter of immigrants from India, who grew up in the South and became South Carolina’s first female governor and first minority governor. She had a little fun with that, too.

When the president first learned of her Indian heritage, she said, “He asked me if I was from the same tribe as Elizabeth Warren,” the Democratic senator from Massachusetts who may challenge Trump in 2020. He has ridiculed Warren’s claims of Native American ancestry.

Haley was introduced as guest speaker by the dinner’s master of ceremonies, comedian Jim Gaffigan, who said, “It’s amazing how Nikki Haley has exited this administration with such dignity.”

Seated at the three-tiered dais in the Hilton ballroom, Haley and her husband, Michael, were surrounded by powerful figures in New York government, finance, media, real estate and philanthropy. They included Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Chuck Schumer, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Wall Street financier Stephen Schwarzman, and television journalists Maria Bartiromo of Fox News and Jeff Glor of CBS News.

The keynote address by Haley was the first high-profile New York appearance she has made outside the United Nations since she announced little more than a week ago that she was resigning the ambassador’s post at year’s end.

Her notice, which took many White House officials by surprise, immediately stirred recurrent speculation that Haley might run for office again and possibly even challenge Trump. But Haley emphatically denied such a prospect when she appeared with the president at the White House on Oct. 9 to formally announce her resignation.

On the contrary, Haley said she intended to campaign for Trump’s re-election. And Trump said he hoped she would return to work for him.

Despite her assurances of fealty to the president, Haley’s departure from the administration will enable her to distance herself from any setbacks that may be suffered by the Republicans in the November midterm elections, less than three weeks away.

Coming into the job with little diplomatic experience, Haley has nonetheless been something of a foreign policy star in the Trump administration and one of its few prominent women. She has been seen as a steady voice in the midst of White House turnover and dysfunction.

The annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner, as it is formally known, has evolved into a prominent political showcase over its seven decades.

It has been punctuated by keynote addresses from luminaries that have included presidents, presidential candidates and diplomatic and cultural figures including Winston Churchill, Tony Blair, John F. Kennedy and Bob Hope.

The speakers have often served up self-deprecating jokes, coupled with messages of morality and the charitable work of the foundation, which this year raised nearly $4 million.

c.2018 New York Times News Service

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