Ivanka Trump had worked for months to tuck a paid maternity leave policy into the federal spending plan. Alongside the massive proposed cuts to safety net programs that many women rely on, the policy was quickly labeled a “cruel joke.” Still, no other White House has gone this far.
That the measure is broader than what Donald Trump suggested on the campaign trail ― it also covers fathers and adoptive parents ― is notable. That it was proposed despite clear opposition to any kind of paid leave mandate from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the GOP shows a willingness to buck party desires. That it originated from a right-wing, male-dominated administration demonstrated that Ivanka indeed has some influence inside White House walls.
And yet, the inclusion of a paid leave policy in the budget hasn’t won Ivanka much, if any, goodwill across the aisle. If anything, the proposal seems to have made her more of a target for progressives, who continue to blame her for her father’s worst impulses and initiatives.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is a budget that she now is responsible for,” said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. “She’s responsible for all women’s issues. And this is the most outrageous attack on women, women’s rights, women’s access to health care, that we’ve seen from any president.”
“Ivanka is not simply tolerant of her father’s blathering radicalism, let alone nobly embattled by it; she is an active proponent and beneficiary of the outrageous robbery her family is perpetrating against those they purportedly serve,” charged feminist writer Lindy West in a Guardian column this week. “Come on. She loves it.”
“Reminder: Ivanka is not your champion, or your moderating influence on her despicable father,” tweeted actor Wil Wheaton. “She is complicit, and as evil as any of them.”
Ivanka-blaming is a passion among the president’s critics. It started during his campaign, when she was presented (by herself and her father) as a moderating influence. At the time, those skeptical about Donald Trump desperately hoped that Ivanka’s cosmopolitan, socially liberal sensibilities would move him in genuinely progressive directions on environmental policy, women’s issues and LGBTQ rights. Those hopes were fueled, at first, by his often-bizarre infatuation with his daughter, and then heightened when he made her a senior adviser.
But that fantasy hasn’t panned out, which has engendered both disappointment among the wishful thinkers and a flood of I-told-you-so rejoinders from those who thought the expectation was ridiculous in the first place.
Ivanka-blaming has also become an overly simplistic way to express fury over White House policies in general. It’s possible that Ivanka is fully complicit in shaping the president’s agenda and just pretending to be a moderate voice to protect her own brand. It’s also possible that she has limited powers as an adviser, little to no policy knowledge in the areas she covers, and zero political experience in a White House stacked with right-wing men who’ve spent careers in Washington.
Donald Trump is, and remains, Donald Trump ― a man who called women dogs and pigs, bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” and said that when he comes home from work and dinner isn’t ready, he “goes through the roof.” That he gave his daughter a post in the White House in no way guaranteed that he was going to take direction from her. It also didn’t negate the fact that he is a wild card with his own opinions, thoughts and instincts.
In truth, we know very little about what Ivanka has and hasn’t tried to do in the White House. What we do know is fairly broad. She and her husband, Jared Kushner, have “frequently tried to blunt Trump’s riskier impulses,” according to The Washington Post. They have notably failed to intervene at certain crucial moments ― like the firing of FBI Director James Comey ― but Ivanka claims she is picking her battles and regularly challenges her father, even if it doesn’t always work.
“I’ll go to the mat on certain issues and I may still lose those,” she recently told The New York Times. “But maybe along the way I’ve modified a position just slightly. And that’s just great.”
Those who despaired over Trump’s election needed a vehicle for hope and turned to her. Advocates imagined that she’d swoop in, whisper something about Planned Parenthood into her father’s ear, and convince him to go against the multiple anti-abortion advocates he had already placed in his administration. They imagined that she’d sit down with dad over dinner, explain the harms of rising carbon levels, and persuade him to remain in the Paris climate pact. They concocted scenarios of her tip-toeing into the Oval Office after Vice President Mike Pence had left and explaining to her father that, in fact, religious freedom laws endanger social progress on gay rights and thus win out over the veep.
As an adviser to the president with the benefit of a close personal connection, Ivanka has certainly disappointed. She is a self-proclaimed feminist, but her speeches and writings on “women’s empowerment” have been narrow and low on substance. She has been notably absent from Washington during intense legislative battles, like when she went skiing during the health care debate. Her Instagram feed, filled with trips to museums and high-profile events, suggests that she isn’t exactly putting in the insane office hours that senior advisers traditionally do. And aside from her (inadequate) paid leave plan, she has won no apparent victories for women or the environment so far. (The decision whether to stay in the Paris accord remains TBD.)
But to blame Ivanka for the entirety of the dumpster fire that has been her father’s presidency is misdirected anger. When Trump proposes defunding Planned Parenthood, it’s far more likely that he has been influenced by his vice president and dozens of anti-abortion advisers. Or that he’s basically forfeited domestic policy to Pence entirely, since that was reportedly what he’d always planned to do.
Many have argued that Ivanka could stand up for her own values and become “a national hero” by publicly denouncing some of her father’s moves. But where, exactly, would that leave her? She’d have publicly admonished her dad while giving up any potential sway she had over him and his future policies. No such expectations were put on past presidential advisers. Nobody demanded that Valerie Jarrett ditch Barack Obama when she disagreed with something he did.
Ivanka herself has said that she intends to be private in her advice. In April, she urged people “not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence.”
Her critics haven’t done that. They have perhaps fairly blamed her for giving some of her father’s policies the type of moderate, sensible veneer they don’t deserve ― it’s why “Saturday Night Live” mocks her as “complicit.”
We don’t know enough, however, to blame Ivanka for all her dad’s decisions. It’s unclear what she’s tried to do behind the scenes. What we do know is that, as senior adviser to the president, she isn’t up for the job and shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.
But maybe, just maybe, Trump’s policies are his own fault.