DES MOINES, Iowa â€” She may not be working in the White House, but that doesn’t mean Ivanka Trump is staying out of politics.
Although she has said she will have no official role in her father’s administration, Ivanka Trump has been quietly laying the groundwork for an effort that could make her perhaps the best-connected policy advocate in Washington. Trump, who has made clear she wants to push for policies benefiting women and girls, last week sought the advice of a group of female executives and media stars in New York City. And transition aides have reached out to congressional staff on childcare policies, an area she has urged President-elect Donald Trump to prioritize.
In a Facebook post detailing her next moves, Ivanka Trump thanked people who had reached out on such issues and added that she is determining the “most impactful and appropriate ways for me to serve our country.”
It is not clear if Trump will establish herself independently or if she will eventually enter the White House. But operating from the outside may take her into uncharted territory, as there are few recent examples of a first family member without a White House office advocating for policies. The closest model is the first lady, who has an office in the East Wing.
For now, the businesswoman has said only that she is stepping away from executive roles at the Trump Organization and her lifestyle brand and is moving her family to Washington so that her husband Jared Kushner can take a job as a senior adviser. She has also stressed that she wants to focus on settling her three young children in a new home.
But Ivanka Trump is also thinking beyond that.
On Thursday, she attended a dinner with female executives at the home of her friend Wendi Deng, ex-wife of media executive Rubert Murdoch. The dinner was put together by Dina Powell, a Goldman Sachs partner who is joining the Trump administration as an assistant to the president and senior counsellor for economic initiatives. Powell has been advising Ivanka Trump and is expected to continue working closely with her.
Other guests included MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, model Christy Turlington Burns, former White House press secretary Dana Perino, Xerox Chairperson Ursula Burns, Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert, Glamour Editor-in-Chief Cynthia Leive and Time Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs. Another attendee, Pattie Sellers, executive director of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summits, wrote on Fortune.com that Ivanka Trump “explained that she wanted to learn from the efforts of leaders in their fields.”
Also there was Sheila Marcelo, founder of www.care.com, a website that connects families with caregivers, said an attendee who spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a private dinner. Marcelo spoke about the high cost of caregiving â€” both for children and adult family members.
The attendee said the group also discussed the Trump transition team’s recent outreach to the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee staff about Trump’s child care proposals. Asked about news reports about the outreach, Ivanka Trump noted that these were priorities for the president-elect, the source said.
A Trump Transition spokesperson declined to comment on the event.
Ivanka Trump’s interest and influence on these issues was clear during the campaign. Encouraged by his daughter, Donald Trump offered a child care plan in September, which includes guaranteeing six weeks of paid maternity leave for new mothers, as well as some incentives to encourage employers to provide childcare to workers.
The policy would require congressional approval â€” a considerable hurdle. Such proposals are not a high priority for Republican leadership and it’s not clear how well they’ll be received by conservatives in the GOP-controlled Congress.
Ivanka Trump has already made some outreach to lawmakers, including meeting with Republican women back in September. But it is not clear if, moving forward, she will lobby Congress directly.
There is little precedent for a president’s adult child seeking to have that sort of influence, said University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who served as ethics counsel for President George W. Bush.
The closest comparison would be the policy work by first ladies, like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Painter said that first ladies are generally not subject to conflict of interest laws, though in the past they complied voluntarily like past presidents.
But Painter said to avoid conflicts, Ivanka Trump should, like her husband, follow federal ethics laws. For example, he said she should not offer her father advice on international trade if she continues to have a financial stake in her clothing business. He said he did not think Ivanka Trump would need to register as a lobbyist if she was a policy advocate if she was she not paid.
Ivanka Trump has said she will take a “formal leave of absence” from her executive positions at the Trump Organization and her lifestyle brand â€” which offers shoes, clothes and messages of female empowerment. Her company will be run by the current president and a board of trustees.
The Trump team has said Ivanka Trump will divest some assets and will receive fixed payments rather than a share of the profits from the Trump Organization. No details have been released on her financial arrangement with the lifestyle brand.
Catherine Lucey, The Associated Press