United Nations Security Council (copy) (copy)

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters, April 9. Haley and President Donald Trump have voiced conflicting messages about Russia sanctions in recent days. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

WASHINGTON — United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has suffered a two-punch setback in her relationship with President Donald Trump in recent days.

First, Trump forced one of Haley's closest longtime aides, Jon Lerner, to withdraw from becoming Vice President Mike Pence's national security adviser.

The reason? Because of the anti-Trump ads Lerner helped to craft during the 2016 campaign.

Then the president backtracked from Haley's public announcement of new Russia sanctions, reportedly telling staff he was not comfortable executing them yet.

The back-to-back disputes served as the most visible split between Trump and Haley since the former South Carolina governor joined Trump's administration.

Foreign policy experts say it threatens to undermine her credibility at the United Nations.

"This will cause Haley immediate problems in New York," said Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at Columbia University. "The Russians are bound to pick up on her gaffe in future Security Council debates over Syria."

Once a vocal critic of Trump on the campaign trail, Haley has since come to be one of the most public faces of the administration's approach to international relations. But the two have clashed before.

In December, Haley reportedly left Trump fuming when she said in a television interview that women who have been sexually assaulted "should be heard," even if they are accusing the president. Trump never lashed out publicly at Haley for the comments.

Despite the president's propensity to turn on his Cabinet-level officials — most prominently Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who he has castigated as "disgraceful" — Haley has generally avoided the brunt of Trump's ire.

But Haley has often struck a tougher tone than Trump on Russia, and Gowan said the two were always likely to clash eventually.

"Haley has really turned up the volume in her attacks on her Russian counterpart Vasily Nebenzya during the chemical weapons crisis," Gowan said. "(Nebenzya) will enjoy the opportunity to make fun of her over this in revenge."

Haley, though, has earned sympathy from one of her predecessors — Madeleine Albright, who was President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations before becoming Secretary of State. She said the "disarray" makes it difficult for Haley to do her job.

"I feel sorry for Nikki Haley," Albright said on CNN. "She has been very tough up there making points. She makes very clear that she's representing the president. And all of a sudden she's put into this ridiculous situation of looking as though she is out there by herself on something."

The inconsistency between Trump and Haley "undermines the whole decision-making process and makes us, frankly, look absolutely inept," Albright added.

A spokeswoman for Haley did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump's economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told reporters the conflicting accounts were the result of "momentary confusion" on Haley's part and got ahead of the curve.

Haley hit back in a statement read by Fox News host Dana Perino.

"With all due respect, I don't get confused," Haley said.

Kudlow then told The New York Times that he apologized to Haley and said he was "totally wrong" to blame her for the miscommunication.

"The policy was changed and she wasn't told about it, so she was in a box," Kudlow said.

Democrats piled on the the sanctions snafu in attempt to exacerbate any tension between Trump and Haley.

"If I was Nikki Haley, I would really be embarrassed," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at a news conference in the Capitol.

While the disagreements may hurt Haley in her job at the U.N., they also may help her political future if she ends up wanting to create distance between herself and Trump later down the line.

"She may actually wear this run-in as a badge of honor with mainstream Republicans and foreign policy mandarins in future," Gowan said.

"Standing up to Trump over Russia plays well with a lot of the groups she courts politically," he added.

Speculation about Haley's future continues to circulate. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough said he thinks Haley could beat Trump if she ran against him in 2020.

Democrats are already beginning to dig in to Haley's past in case she does end up seeking higher office eventually.

Those oft-rumored higher aspirations could contribute to why Trump wants to stop Haley from flexing her diplomatic muscles too much: He may see her as a threat.

"Trump's dealings with Haley have always been a bit of a roller coaster," Gowan said. "He may be taking pot-shots at her now, but he needs her to play an important part in his efforts to fix or kill the Iran nuclear bargain in the coming months. He cannot cut her out completely."

 

 

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.