Knowing the Power of Her Voice

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley discussed her book at GW’s Presidential Distinguished Event Series.

Nikki Haley
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that a speech by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton influenced her to get into politics. (William Atkins/GW Today)
November 19, 2019

By B.L. Wilson

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley talked Thursday about her life in politics and diplomacy in the Trump administration as she has outlined in her new book,  “With All Due Respect.”

She told a sold-out audience at Lisner Auditorium about her rise as a first generation American born to Indian immigrants who grew up in rural Bamberg, S.C., to become the state’s first woman governor.

“We were the only Indian family in town. We weren’t white enough to be white or black enough to be black,” she said.

That experience, she said, helped to form a life philosophy  to focus on peoples’ similarities, not their differences.

“When you are faced with a challenge, if you first talk about what you agree on, people let their guard down, and you’re more likely to get to an agreement by pushing through that challenge,” she said.

The conversation with Ms. Haley was the third in GW’s Presidential Distinguished Event series and was presented in partnership with  Politics and Prose bookstore. In opening remarks, GW President Thomas LeBlanc said the series is an opportunity to “allow students access to uniquely D.C. experiential learning opportunities.”

“The discussion with Ambassador Haley offers a first hand perspective on major national and international matters, as well as behind the scenes account of her tenure in the Trump administration,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

After a short biographical film of her career highlights, the former ambassador took to the stage to sustained applause and was joined by the moderator, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress.

Ms. Haley said she traces the roots of her interest in governing and politics to when she was 13 and doing bookkeeping for her mother’s business. That  work developed her love of numbers.

“Every problem can be fixed by moving the numbers around,” she said.

Years later, she challenged South Carolina’s longest serving state legislator and won. She said she decided to run for governor after she failed to get the state legislature to have recorded individual votes on key legislation, including a bill to raise their pay. She won the race for governor, too.

Haley was governor when nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston were gunned down by a white supremacist during a prayer meeting and subsequently saw the removal of the Confederate flag from in front of the statehouse to a museum.

“The response to the forgiveness [of the killer by relatives of the shooting victims] was so overwhelming, we didn’t have protests, we had vigils, we didn’t have violence, we had hugs,” she said.

When Donald Trump called her to New York City to talk after his general election victory, she said she turned down his initial offer to be secretary of state and wasn’t sure about accepting the post of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

She said she told the president’s chief of staff, “I don’t know what the United Nations does. I just know that everybody hates it.”

She said she agreed to accept the U.N. position on certain conditions: It had to be a cabinet-level position; it had include a place on the National Security Council; and she had to be able to speak her mind to him.

She told Mr. Trump, “I don’t want to be a wallflower. I need to be able to say what I think.” He said “done,” she recalled and was “true to his word.”

“I knew what I needed to be successful” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for the platform that will bring out the best for you.”

Joni Ernst and Nikki Haley

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Nikki Haley discuss the former U.N. ambassador's new book "With All Due Respect."

Ms. Ernst asked what Ms. Haley meant by women knowing “the power of their voice,” a theme that is mentioned several times in the book.

The ambassador offered an example of protecting herself after a White House official told reporters that  “there must have been momentary confusion” when she said on a news program that new sanctions would be imposed on Russia for assisting in an attack in Syria. When the White House still did not back track, Ms. Haley said, she issued her own statement: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

The catchphrase went viral on social media and part of it became the book’s title.

During a Q & A with the audience, Ms. Haley was asked about her initial campaigns for elected office. “Everyone gave a reason why I shouldn’t run, I was too young, and I had two small children,” she said.

But she was influenced after hearing Hillary Clinton speak at a local university in South Carolina. “For all the reasons people tell you not to do it, that’s exactly the reason you should,” she recalled Ms. Clinton saying.. “I may not agree with her on a lot of things, [but] she’s the reason I made the jump.”

As the audience streamed out of Lisner, a crowd of protesters, many of them appearing to be students,  met them with chants aimed at Ms. Haley: “With all due respect, your war crimes won’t go left unchecked,” and “Nikki, Nikki, you can’t hide, you signed up on genocide.”


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