WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: U.S. President Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump walk toward Marine One while departing from the White House, on...
Mark Wilson

Trump prefers to keep power (literally) inside the family

Just a few days after the election, CBS News’ Lesley Stahl interviewed members of Donald Trump’s family and asked Ivanka Trump whether she’d be part of her father’s administration. “No,” she replied. “I’m going to be a daughter.” Pressed further, the president’s daughter said she’d fight for issues important to her, “but not in a formal administrative capacity.”

Last week, that changed, with news that Ivanka Trump would get an office in the West Wing, but she wouldn’t have an actual job on her father’s team.

Yesterday, that changed again.
Ivanka Trump is now officially an employee of the U.S. government.

The White House announced Wednesday that she will take no pay and serve as an assistant to the president. The role comes after NBC News confirmed earlier this week that the first daughter would have an office in the West Wing.
I’ve seen some competing reports on her official title, with some accounts saying she’ll be an “assistant to the president,” while others say she’ll be a “special assistant to the president.” The distinction matters – the former enjoys a higher rank than the latter – but in either case, Ivanka Trump is poised to become an influential figure in the White House.

Indeed, it’s not just the West Wing office. The president’s adult daughter is already participating in meetings with foreign leaders – literally sitting next to Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Germany’s Angela Merkel during recent White House discussions – and building a policy portfolio, despite having about as much relevant experience in these areas as her father (which is to say, none).

There are all kinds of related questions that need answers, including potential controversies surrounding nepotism laws and ethical conflicts. Bloomberg Politics reported that Ivanka Trump “doesn’t plan to divest from her brand of clothing and accessories as part of her compliance with ethics standards.”

But it’s also worth pausing to consider why, exactly, Trump is intent on keeping so much power literally within his family.

Ivanka Trump’s new West Wing job comes on the heels of her husband, Jared Kushner, getting a significant promotion, putting the president’s 36-year-old son-in-law in charge of all kinds of things, including areas of domestic and diplomatic policy. There is no precedent for a dynamic even similar to this: Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, despite no relevant experience, will both now have powerful White House posts. It’s the sort arrangement we might ordinarily expect to see in a smaller country run by a kleptocracy.

But we’re seeing it now in the United States, probably because the president is having trust issues. After a couple of months on the job, Trump seems to lack confidence in many executive-branch officials – whose loyalty he doubts – so it stands to reason he might take steps to empower people whom he’s literally related to.

That does not, however, make the arrangement any easier to defend.

Donald Trump and White House

Trump prefers to keep power (literally) inside the family