NEW YORK ― U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke about her first two months on the job with MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday night at the Women in the World Summit. But the most notable part of the discussion was the decidedly negative reaction of the crowd.
The tension in the room escalated, with one woman eventually yelling a question about refugees.
The mood initially shifted when Van Susteren asked why “we have not heard much from [President Donald Trump] on Russia” ― specifically referencing the president’s relative silence on Russia’s relationship with Syria in the wake of the chemical weapons attack in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province. The attack on Tuesday, which left up to 100 people dead, including many children, was almost certainly perpetrated by Syrian government forces.
Van Susteren’s question was met with huge applause and cheers.
“Everyone wants to look at [President Trump’s] words, but look at his actions,” Haley responded. “The two things that Russia doesn’t want to see the U.S. do, is strengthen our military and expand energy. And the president has done both of those.”
This comment was met with loud boos ― not something that happens often at the summit, which focuses on women’s rights around the world.
When addressing the U.N.’s investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria against civilians, Haley again criticized Russia’s reluctance to acknowledge the role that the Syrian government plays.
“If you say what they want to hear, they like it,” she said. “If you tell them the truth, they don’t like it.”
“They just make things up,” Haley later said, also in reference to Russia.
In both cases, the irony of a member of the Trump administration complaining about a country whose leaders have an aversion to the truth was not lost on the audience.
Earlier on Wednesday, Haley gave a fierce speech at the United Nations condemning the Syrian regime and its Russian ally.
“How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” Hayley asked at the meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
Despite Hayley’s comments, it’s unclear what response the U.S. is considering in the wake of the attack. Trump said during a joint press conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Wednesday that Tuesday’s attack had changed his attitude toward the Assad regime and the country’s ongoing civil war. Just last week, the Trump administration had signaled it would no longer push for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s removal.
But neither Hayley nor Trump addressed whether Tuesday’s atrocity changed anything toward the president’s stance on Syrian refugees. Though there are already stringent requirements for refugees to enter the U.S., Trump repeatedly said during the presidential campaign that he considered Syrian refugees a terrorist threat.
After taking office in January, Trump signed an executive order on immigration that blocked admission to the U.S. for all refugees for 120 days and for Syrian refugees indefinitely, while also cutting the goal for refugee admissions this fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000. The ban was later struck down in court. The implementation of a revised version of the executive order, which didn’t single out Syrian refugees but still blocked admission of all refugees for 120 days and decreased the total number of refugees to be admitted, was also halted in court.
At one point during Haley’s exchange with Van Susteren, a woman sitting in the mezzanine yelled out: “What about refugees?”
Haley went silent. Van Susteren paused, and then said, “Moving on.” The subject of refugees did not come up again.
Several minutes later, a woman sitting toward the front of the room yelled out, “Move on to the next panel!”
Those in attendance took note of the increasingly tense atmosphere in the room:
Haley’s talk came directly after a panel on the weaponization of medical care in Syria, in which two doctors asked those in the audience to start caring about Syrian doctors, civilians and refugees.
“Give a fuck,” begged Dr. Annie Sparrow.