When dad’s the president — a look inside Ivanka Trump’s complicated world – Washington Post

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Ivanka Trump listens as her father speaks during an event on emerging technology at the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Ivanka Trump’s office: clean, white, quiet. A zone of punctual start times and promptly-offered water bottles, and a conference table at which she conducts meetings. A short, winding walk away from her father’s Oval Office downstairs.

She does not necessarily appreciate daily schedules. Neither does her father. When Ivanka needs to see the president, she stops by. When he needs to see her, he calls. When he wants her opinion, he asks for it and she gives it, but without expectation that it will be followed.

She sees her role as not to persuade, but to inform and support: That much is clear to White House staffers and friends who have observed the first daughter’s early months in the White House. Anyone who has invested in her the ability to change her father clearly doesn’t understand the dynamic that has always governed their relationship and also the dynamic of a president and his staff. After all, she works for him.

“The people are different. The decisions are different and the office is different,” Ivanka, an assistant to the president, said in a recent extended interview in her office, one of the few she’s granted. “But he is the same person and I am the same person. And we interact in the same way as we always have.”

One morning last week, she was one of the senior staff who convened around a long table in the White House’s Situation Room. On the agenda was solidifying her father’s remarks at the upcoming G-20, a global economic summit, particularly in a session relating to the economic empowerment of women.

“She’s been the advocate to put these things on the president’s agenda,” said a senior White House official who was in the meeting.

Ivanka argued that the administration’s message should focus on the barriers facing women: access to capital, access to markets — issues that were her personal interests before she maneuvered them onto her father’s official platform.

In the meeting, she was, as usual, collegial and thoughtful, thanking the mid-level staffers present for their research and work.

A few hours earlier, her father had already issued a few words on one woman. Just before 9 a.m. the president had gone on a Twitter bender targeting MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski. He called her “crazy” and “low IQ.” He described her as coming to his Florida estate, “bleeding badly from a facelift.”

The media and political world exploded — another days-long uproar over a sexist remark by the impetuous @RealDonaldTrump. His words were again seen as tearing down the platform Ivanka says she is trying to build. People wondered: Who would dare tell him to stop undermining his office and damaging himself.

“Where are Jared and Ivanka right now?” Politico demanded.

Ivanka was discussing policy.

And then she went, presumably, back to her West Wing Office — small by CEO standards, big by White House ones — and to what has become the most complicated father-daughter dance in the history of American politics.

For Ivanka, moving to Washington has been a master’s course in the zigzagging political process. But there is no rule book for dealing with a president’s discombobulating tendency to overshadow everything she and everyone else in his administration is trying to do.

Her response to what she called “all the noise” has been to retreat into a cocoon of carefulness, to put her head down and work. “Every time I’m a little tired or frustrated — I remind myself that it’s the greatest privilege in the world to do this, to be in the White House,” she said.

She is learning to more carefully weigh the consequences of her opinions, which impact not the family business, but the country and the world. Unlike in business, where she felt comfortable exchanging off-the-cuff opinions with her father, she now tries not to respond too quickly. She waits until he has asked her opinion multiple times on the same issue, taking that as a cue to its importance, and then she reaches out to subject-matter experts to help her develop a reasoned position.

When she disagrees with her dad, she asks herself whether the issue was a campaign promise or not. If it was, she readily suppresses her own wishes. She believes that doing otherwise would undermine what the American people voted for. She asks herself why her opinion is more right than the 46 percent of the country who put her father in office.

Foremost, she presents him with information. She tells him what she thinks, and then lays out what the other side’s strongest arguments are. Then the president decides. As he always has.

“My father trusts me to be an honest broker,” Ivanka said. “I don’t have a hidden agenda. I have a very clear agenda. He knows exactly where I stand and I express why I care. There’s no secrecy about it.”


In a meeting with CEOs in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, she is her father’s mouthpiece, hosting business leaders who want to support his plan to boost workforce training. On a tour through a technical school in Wisconsin, she stayed at his shoulder, shaking hands and passing compliments to a man demonstrating an automated cutting machine. In a briefing with reporters, she constantly revised her notes with a felt-tip pen, but rarely needs to consult them as she speaks about the administration’s proposal for a workforce training program.

She said she’s pushing the administration’s “working family agenda.” She uses the language of her father — “tremendous,” “incredible.”

“When you say daughter, when you say staffer — she is definitely not a staffer,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn), who has met with Ivanka multiple times in the 16 weeks since she took on a role as adviser to the president. “No question. That is not the case. I think it’s very much she is — I don’t want to use the word ‘peer,’ but she is a partner.”

Donald Trump has relied on his daughter’s advice since she began working for him as a vice president at the Trump Organization, the tempered Athena to his furious Zeus. She was 24.

“She did not build her life thinking she was going into politics,” said a person close to Ivanka.

Over the course of a decade working for her dad, she grew accustomed to offering her opinion, sometimes off the cuff, on the family’s business portfolio: deals, properties, hotel openings and hotel design.

This is her portfolio now: Workforce development. Childcare tax credits and paid parental leave — issues that no American Congress has ever passed, and which have become Ivanka’s signature topics, and bellwethers for her success. Human trafficking. Last Tuesday, she stood by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at a crowded State Department ceremony, honoring award recipients who have contributed to the study and eradication of trafficking.

“When I have conversations with her, it’s really not about trying to influence the president,” said Corker, who was at the event and has counseled Ivanka on the issue. In meeting with Ivanka, “I feel like I’m dealing with the principal who is going to be carrying out these issues in the White House.”

At the conclusion of their meetings, on occasion Ivanka has walked Corker downstairs to wander into the Oval Office and say “Hi” to the president. And, it was clear to the senator that Ivanka has real power in the White House over issues that are on her agenda.

She may not be able to sway her father’s opinions, but she is throwing her weight behind issues such as family leave — building coalitions and, if all miraculously aligns, could see Congress pass legislation that she has helped to push.

Says her husband, Jared Kushner: “I think she’s very lucky in that she cares less about what people think and more about if she’s doing the right thing and will be able to get positive results. Ultimately that’s what has and will make her very successful.”


Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner hold their son Theodore James Kushner during the congressional picnic on the South Lawn in June. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

At its heart this is a story about fathers and daughters, and what happens when one becomes president of the United States and the other follows him to the White House and tries to make heads or tails of it.

This is a story of a daughter who leaves her beloved New York. Moves her three children to D.C. Marvels at having a house with an actual back yard, and wonders if the paparazzi who post themselves in front of their new home are paid in 10-hour shifts, because they’re always there to photograph when her husband Jared leaves for work at 6 a.m., but then are always gone by 4 p.m.

This is a story that gets exceptional because it’s the Trumps, for whom life and career are also always entwined with family: Ivanka as a child, building future Trump towers out of Lego sets, as one of her favorite stories goes. An older Ivanka, using the interoffice envelopes in the real Trump Tower to send her father positive press clippings about himself, as an acquaintance remembers. Season after season of “The Apprentice,” with the fates of D-list celebrities determined by the opinions of the two Trumps.

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