Ivanka Trump stands as one of the few women who can influence President Trump. There’s also Kellyanne Conway, of course, the counselor who will vigorously defend her boss, his White House press secretary, and all of the administration’s alternative facts to boot. A very low key Hope Hicks, who serves as Trump’s director of strategic communications, sits on the quieter end of the spectrum. She’s seldom seen or heard from, other than to issue the briefest of statements on her boss’ behalf.
Somewhere in the middle, there’s Ivanka. These days, she’s a relatively muted presence who — together with her husband, former Observer publisher-turned senior advisor Jared Kushner — was supposed to have her father’s ear on a number of policy issues. She’s also thought to act as an unofficial hostess in the absence of Donald’s wife, Melania, who has made no secret of her desire to stay in Manhattan during the beginning of her husband’s presidency. As for jokes that Ivanka might fill the FLOTUS role, she has deemed the notion “inappropriate.”
While her father took office, Ivanka telegraphed her policy-bound intent and placed her businesses on hold for the next four years (give or take another term). As if on cue, retailers also began to drop Ivanka’s clothing brand due to poor sales. This caused a ruckus, but Ivanka forged forward with another objective — to focus the next four years on family life by acclimating her three children with Kushner to life in Washington, D.C.
Currently, D.C. resident Ivanka potentially sits in a prime position of (unpaid) power. What will she do as First Daughter?
An Advocate For Working Women’s Rights
In September 2016, Donald Trump presented multiple Ivanka-influenced policy proposals that revolved around lowering the financial burden on working parents by lowering childcare costs. This plan included a requirement that business provide six weeks of paid maternity leave, which was a stunning proposal from a GOP standpoint.
While unveiling these planned policies, Donald stated, “We need working mothers to be fairly compensated for their work, and to have access to affordable, quality child care for their kids.” He insisted that this program wouldn’t be a further burden upon taxpayers because he’d crack down on unemployment insurance fraud and divert that money to this new objective. In addition, Trump announced a reconfiguration of the existing tax code to allow child-care deductions for four children per family but only for those families who earn less than $ 500,000 and a single parent who earns less than $ 250,000.
In support of her father, Ivanka expressed how lucky to raise children while working, which — she claimed — meant sixteen-hour work days at the Trump Organization. Even as a mother to three, the heiress kept this schedule, which is at once admirable and unattainable. How many mothers can sustain such acrobatics? The unspoken detail is that Ivanka has nannies, housekeepers, and other assistance to place her career-woman lifestyle into reach. This presents some relatability issues, which could come into play later.
While meeting with Trump and Trudeau’s roundtable, Ivanka noted that most women aren’t as fortunate as she is in regard to maintaining both family and career: “This must change. As a society we need to create policies that champion all parents, enabling the American family to thrive.” Yet during the tail end of campaign season, Ivanka’s true intent was questioned when some of her employees, including a former top executive, hinted that they had to fight for maternity leave while working for her.
Months later in mid-February — and this is relatively late-breaking compared to all of the executive orders Trump signed early on — Ivanka and Donald met with Justin Trudeau. The two leaders launched the Canada-United States Council for the Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders. Details remain scarce on what this joint task force shall do, but a primary goal will be cooperation by the U.S. and Canada to strengthen their economies by supporting female entrepreneurs. Will this support be through tax breaks or other incentives? No clue yet, but we’ll see.
Reports also indicate that Ivanka is laying some groundwork at D.C. dinner parties that are attended by journalists including Mika Brzezinski and editors from Glamour and Time. She’s hosted the likes of Bill Gates and other powerful CEOs at her own home. At these events, she’s putting out feelers that have led some to believe that Ivanka may hope to lobby Congress on her previously mentioned child care proposals. Unfortunately, these policies don’t appear to be a high priority for the House or Senate, and there’s not much precedent for a presidential son or daughter being able to sway Congress if they’re not otherwise predisposed on an issue.
Some background information on how Ivanka arrived here is worth digging into to gauge whether (or not) she’ll be successful in her quest.
A Highly Anticipated Role
Ivanka debuted during general election season in blunt fashion. She delivered a surprisingly Democratic-sounding speech at the GOP Convention in September. This speech highlighted the importance of working motherhood and called attention to the gender wage gap. She even paid lip service to the crushing nature of student debt, something that she hasn’t experienced firsthand. All of this talk helped to soften Trump’s platform — beyond the Wall, a Muslim ban, and Donald’s only-I-can-save-you rhetoric.
After her father’s victory, Ivanka reportedly sat in on her father’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. She met with Al Gore to discuss climate change in her father’s place. And then Ivanka and Jared quickly packed up their lives and trucked right into the nation’s capital.
Indeed, it’s no wonder that some folks expected Ivanka to become the “most powerful woman in politics.” Yet this hasn’t happened immediately or in the assertive capacity that her convention speech led some folks to expect.
For example, where was Ivanka’s voice while her father signed a global gag rule that delivered a jolting blow to international women’s health services? Or when he nominated a Supreme Court justice that acted as a down payment to overturn Roe v. Wade? Or as millions protested what they view as distinctly anti-women rhetoric and policies? Or even when the GOP Congress began to dismantle Obamacare, a move that could strip current provisions that require workplaces to provide lactation rooms for breastfeeding mothers?
These are valid questions, which could handicap Ivanka’s policy agenda, but let’s keep going.
An Unexpectedly Subdued Beginning
In D.C., policy work can run 24-7, and Ivanka’s family schedule already places her at a slight disadvantage in a Steve Bannon-dominated administration. Ivanka (who converted to Judaism with marriage) and Kushner generally go off grid from Friday night through Saturday evening to observe Shabbat. Rumor has it that their weekly disappearance is when Bannon dives into action (the timing of Trump’s Muslim ban would support this theory). In addition, her Saturday silence during the women’s marches could partially account for Ivanka refraining from comment, although she isn’t one to speak out against her father in the first place.
On many other days, Ivanka has been busily Instagramming photos from the White House in what CNN described as an effort to “cultivate a Trump version of Camelot.” This has backfired a few times already. During the tail end of the weekend in which her father unleashed his Muslim ban, Ivanka was criticized for a tone-deaf photo, which showed herself and Kushner in formal wear as protests raged at airports nationwide. Most recently, she departed Air Force One and Facebooked a photo for posterity.
Ivanka doesn’t make public moves without intent, so one assumes that this social media maneuvering arrives with a plan. Admittedly, the show-offy nature of these posts won’t win her any new support, but here’s the thing…
Ivanka Trump doesn’t have to do anything in terms of woman-friendly policies. However, her rhetoric on the campaign trail led people to believe that she very much wanted to advance women’s rights in the Republican party once her father was elected. And her recent meeting with Trudeau and Donald may only be the first step that leads to years of policy pushing.
Will Women Buy What Ivanka Is Selling?
By all indications, Ivanka plans to quietly move her chess pieces in an unobtrusive manner. Of course, her father (and his inner circle) may hamper all efforts at grace and quiet maneuvering. One early example — when Ivanka’s brand was dropped by retailers (from Nordstrom to Burlington Coat Factory), Kellyanne Conway stirred the pot with a free “advertisement,” which reportedly angered Ivanka. She’s not keen to be drawn into an ethical controversy, and who could blame her?
Image is especially important since Ivanka will have to lobby for her causes, for her father has yet to issue an executive order on childcare matters. There’s a reason for this — these proposals will be tied to Congressional budgeting matters, and in particular, changes to the tax code. And Congress isn’t expected to deal with this issue until spring at the earliest. Further, the projected cost of Ivanka’s new maternity leave proposal is projected to be about $ 300 billion, and as CNN points out, similar agendas have failed before GOP-led Congresses, at least when they’ve come from Democrats.
Furthermore, Ivanka will have to work hard to actually win demonstrable support from women for her woman-friendly policies. Yes, everyone would like more maternity leave or a child-care tax credit, but will women believe in Ivanka’s vision? She may have an uphill battle while trying to convince women — let alone the predominantly white men in Congress — to accept her ideas and buy into them as genuine.
A relatable image will be key, but Ivanka has stumbled a few times while cultivating a realistic vision of a working mother. She must do so in order to win public support and Congressional approval. However, the reality is that Ivanka is settling into D.C. life and will likely fly under the radar for awhile. As First Daughter, Ivanka’s still an unknown quantity to the public … a cipher. So, it remains to be seen whether she will rise up and show the mettle that she displayed as a working mom and a salesperson on the campaign trail.