WASHINGTON — Ivanka Trump has been vocal in using her White House role to advocate for women. But when President Donald Trump lobbed a demeaning attack on a female TV host on Twitter this week, his daughter and senior adviser kept quiet.
It was a moment of silence that spoke to the challenges and calculations Ivanka Trump faces as she tries to promote family-friendly policies in an administration led by a man whose comments about women have made women cringe and drawn bipartisan rebuke.
In recent weeks, the younger Trump has discussed family leave with lawmakers, traveled to promote job-training efforts and spoken out against human trafficking. She’s also tried to position herself as above the political fray, saying in one interview that she tries to “stay out of politics” and in another that she’s been surprised by the “level of viciousness” in Washington politics.
The tussle between her father and “Morning Joe” co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough offered a pointed reminder to Ivanka Trump that this is a city where it’s impossible to separate policy and politics.
The MSNBC hosts, in a Washington Post column Friday, called on women close to the president to condemn him for questioning Brzezinski’s intelligence and saying that she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” in a December encounter.
“It would be the height of hypocrisy to claim the mantle of women’s empowerment while allowing a family member to continue such abusive conduct,” Brzezinski and Scarborough wrote.
Ivanka Trump did not respond to questions about the president’s tweet or how it affects her policy efforts.
While she has won some praise for trying to tackle complex issues that are not traditionally high on the Republican agenda, such as paid family leave and child care expenses, liberal advocates said her recent evasion tactics were not helpful in building bipartisan bridges.
“Moments like this make it much harder for advocates that have spent decades fighting gender stereotypes and discrimination and advancing women’s equality to view her as a potential ally,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Said Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, “She’s never been one who stood up when it mattered most.”
The administration has already been criticized for the limited number of women in top positions. And the White House Council for Women and Girls, established under President Barack Obama to ensure women are considered in policymaking, has not been active under Trump. Following a report in Politico that the administration was reviewing whether to keep the council, a senior administration official said there are plans to keep it in place, though details and timing still are being worked out. The official was not authorized to discuss internal thinking on the matter on the record.
Earlier this week, Ivanka Trump appeared at a State Department ceremony unveiling an annual U.S. report on human trafficking, sounding “a clarion call into action in defense of the vulnerable and the exploited.” At the same time, however, she has come under criticism for harsh conditions at a Chinese company that produces shoes for her fashion brand and others.
All of these moments have contributed to Ivanka Trump’s real-time political education.
Embracing advocacy for women as her central focus, she stepped away from executive roles at The Trump Organization and running her own brand to join the administration. Last week she traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with Republican lawmakers on family-friendly tax policies and paid parental leave. While her goal of a national family leave program has limited GOP backing, some more modest tax policies could be included in a Republican tax overhaul effort.
To further her priorities, Ivanka Trump has quietly reached out to Democrats. In May, she met with Democratic Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand of New York, a vocal advocate for paid leave, according to a public calendar on Gillibrand’s website. The two have not spoken since, said a Gillibrand aide, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting.
Before Thursday’s tweet from the president about Brzezinski, Ivanka Trump provided a statement to the AP about her paid leave efforts. She said that a national paid family leave plan is a “critical piece of the administration’s working families agenda.” She added, “The legislative process takes time, but I am committed to working with legislative leaders to build coalitions of support for policies that empower American working families and enable them to thrive.”
Despite Donald Trump’s history of offensive comments about women, Ivanka Trump has defended her father as a supporter of women. Speaking on a panel at a women’s conference in Berlin earlier this year, she described her father as “a tremendous champion of supporting families” — a statement which drew groans and hisses.
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