Republican South Carolina Governor Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley, better known as Nikki Haley, was born on January 20, 1972, in Bamberg, South Carolina, to Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India. She attended local schools and graduated from Clemson University with a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting. Haley went on to work for her mother’s upscale clothing business, Exotica International, helping to make it a multimillion-dollar company.
In 1998, Haley was named to the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors and, in 2003, to that of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce. She became president of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) in 2004 and became involved in several other organizations, including the Lexington Medical Foundation, West Metro Republican Women and the South Carolina Chapter of NAWBO.
Haley converted to Christianity and sits on the board of the Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church. Out of respect for her parents’ culture, she still attends Sikh services.
Haley ran for a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2004 and faced a challenge in the primary from incumbent Republican Larry Koon, the longest-serving member of the House at that time. She won the primary and then the general election, in which she ran unopposed, and became the first Indian-American to hold office in South Carolina. She ran unopposed for re-election in 2006 and defeated her Democrat challenger in 2008.
As a Republican, Haley’s platform was anti-tax and fiscally conservative. She voted for bills that restrict abortion and those that protect fetuses. As the child of legal immigrants, Haley has expressed support for greater enforcement of immigration laws.
Haley, a member of the Tea Party movement, announced in May 2009 that she would run for governor of South Carolina in 2010. She was endorsed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and the incumbent first lady of South Carolina Jenny Sanford. She was elected governor on November 2, 2010.
The Republican Party selected Haley to deliver the GOP response following President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address on January 12, 2016, significantly raising her national profile.
Following her response, press outlets reported that Haley was on the GOP short list as a possible vice presidential running mate for the party’s nominee, Donald Trump, who ultimately chose Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate. During the presidential campaign, Haley initially campaigned for Marco Rubio and then endorsed Ted Cruz. Haley criticized Trump for not immediately disavowing the Ku Klux Klan’s support of him and for his proposed Muslim ban. Trump responded to Haley's criticism with his own critiques of her, including calling her “weak on immigration” and tweeting in March 2016: “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!”
By the end of the contentious campaign, Haley backed Trump and celebrated his victory. “I have never known what it’s like to have a Republican president,” she said at a gathering of Republican leaders after the election. “I can tell you that the last five years, Washington has been the hardest part of my job. This is a new day.”
On November 22, 2016, president-elect Donald Trump picked Haley to become the United States ambassador to the United Nations. She was the first woman to be named to his administration. “Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in a statement. “She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”
In accepting the offer, Haley said that she was “honored that the President-elect has asked me to join his team and serve the country we love.” She added, “When the President believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation's standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed.”
On January 24, 2017, Haley was confirmed as U.N. Ambassador by the Senate, 94-6, and she resigned as governor of South Carolina to serve in her new role.
Over her first few months as the U.N. Ambassador, Haley found her time consumed by keeping the international community attuned to threats from Russia, North Korea and Iran. In December 2017, she forcefully defended President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, referring to it as the “will of the American people” and something that would “fastball the peace process going forward.” Haley has also vociferously condemned anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.
Haley has also made human rights a priority. During her tenure as the Security Council President in April 2017, Haley hosted the council’s first ever session solely devoted to the discussion of human rights.