Haley at UN (copy)

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks to reporters Tuesday in New York as she begins her term this month as president of the Security Council. 

NEW YORK — When U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley found out she would be president of the United Nations Security Council for September, she said that she cried.

The rotation of the Security Council presidency between the 15 member nations had landed her one of the busiest months, with a deluge of conflicts to address in every corner of the globe.

Eventually, Haley revealed at a news conference to open her month-long Security Council presidency, she came to embrace the challenge of her second stint leading the group, after first serving as president in April 2017.

But just because she's now experienced it before doesn't mean the job has gotten much easier for the former South Carolina governor.

"Last year, I was drinking out of a fire hydrant," Haley said. "This year, I'm drinking out of a fire hydrant."

Awaiting Haley looms a daunting list of challenges and a chance to show what she has learned over a year and a half in New York.

She's taken an aggressive approach toward Nicaragua, holding the Security Council's first meeting on internal turmoil and human rights violations in the Central American country over the objections of Russia, China and Bolivia, though it did not produce any official action.

She slammed the Myanmar government for jailing two Reuters journalists. She's tackling the broad theme of corruption and its effect on global conflicts. She's working on enforcement of a newly imposed arms embargo on South Sudan.

She has risen again to the strident defense of Israel, a running theme throughout her tenure at the UN, most recently cutting U.S. funds from the UN refugee agency focused on Palestinian aid because she argued it had become too political.

Despite all that, Haley has brought an upbeat demeanor to the job, welcoming an opportunity to teach foreign leaders about the American South — the region she says they understand the least and that she's hoping to show them through a possible group trip to her home state soon.

As speculation continues to rise that Haley could be a presidential contender herself in 2024 or beyond, her latest month as Security Council president and the impending Trump visit promises to offer another high-stakes test of her mettle under pressure. 

"When things get intense, we smile," Haley said. "And when they get more intense, we smile bigger."

Preparing for Trump

The experience since arriving in her Cabinet post in January 2017 has at least given Haley an opportunity to learn the unique procedures and quirks of the U.N. process, experts say, allowing her to focus more time on the laundry list of policy disputes.

"Haley has a stronger grasp of how the U.N. works than 18 months ago, and a greater appreciation of the organization's role in handling conflicts like the war in South Sudan," said Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at Columbia University.

She has brought some of the same tactics she used at the South Carolina Statehouse, pressuring enemies and allies alike by "taking names" when they act in a way she dislikes. The biggest difference, she has said, is rather than feuding with politicians of a different party, she's now butting heads with actual tyrants.

On top of the myriad conflicts Haley is wrestling with, she is tasked with preparing for high-level Security Council meetings chaired by President Donald Trump, by far the most high-profile event of her month leading the group — and one that no amount of preparation can ensure goes off without a hitch.

The choice of Iran as the topic of Trump's meeting has also prompted consternation among observers, who note that it risks demonstrating the isolation of the United States at the UN, even from some of the country's closest allies, who disagreed with Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement earlier this year.

"Haley's top priority will be organizing a disciplined presidential appearance," Gowan said. "Although she can't be sure what he will say."

The Trump visit puts Haley's fortunes in the hands of an often unpredictable president, a scenario she's normally in a better position to avoid than other Cabinet officials from her perch in New York.

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International reporters at the U.N., unlike some in Washington, D.C., tend to focus exclusively on the complex foreign policy matters at play, rather than prodding Haley for her opinions on the latest palace intrigue out of the White House.

When she does get questions related to Trump-centric controversies — as she did this week when asked about Bob Woodward's forthcoming book — Haley bats them away as political fodder that can be interpreted to suit the existing beliefs of each side.

"What I can tell you is what I know," Haley said. "I know that the president has been a great partner to me on foreign security. I meet with him often. I talk with him often. When I have concerns, I bring them to him. He listens, he's respectful and he engages back."

Approval from both parties

In the halls of Congress, Haley remains one of the most popular members of the Trump administration. Republicans laud her as one of the most effective advocates of the administration's foreign policy approach.

"I used to say Nikki's a rising star, but now she's just a star," said U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, predicting she will someday be the first female president. "She's proven herself publicly in what she's done with other countries, she's proven herself as a spokesperson for the president."

Haley's tenure has not been without detractors. This week, critics both domestic and abroad dinged her for suggesting she will automatically assume the Syrian regime is behind any chemical weapons used in the country.

But even many Democrats concede Haley has run a steady ship at the U.S. mission to the U.N. compared to other Trump cabinet officials — though they argue that's not a high bar to clear. She earned particular bipartisan praise for the strong sanctions against North Korea that she helped shepherd through the Security Council.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from Texas, said Haley has "demonstrated an admirable talent for holding together our alliances at a time when our president has shown a hostility to even some of our closest allies."

"It's in many ways an enormous task," Castro said. "But given everything that she has to work with, I think she's held up pretty well, even if I don't agree with some positions she's taken."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina statehouse and congressional delegation. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.