As Comeygate Deepens, Ivanka Offers a Bipartisan Distraction – Vanity Fair
Tucked into a corner table at Café Milano on Wednesday evening, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner leaned in to one another in conversation. By morning, they would be coming in and out of the White House dining room, where their father and boss Donald Trump watched former F.B.I. director James Comey testify in front of Congress that he believed the president had lied about the bureau, defamed him, and sought to pressure him to drop a federal investigation. But on Wednesday night, there was red wine on the table to finish and fellow diners’ greetings to accept.
Among those who stopped by was U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, who, earlier in the week, announced that the V.A. had worked with Kushner’s Office of American Opportunity in advance of his department’s announcement about its plans to modernize the way it keeps veterans’ electronic health records. The news kicked off what the White House optimistically dubbed “Infrastructure Week,” a political jumpstart which amounted to a string of speeches, events, and meetings to highlight some of the administration’s plans to rebuild America. The blitz also happened to provide some counter-programming to Comey.
Just about anything attempting to distract from the incessant pre- and post-Comey analysis would face certain doom, and so, of course, did infrastructure week. Monday’s press conference highlighting an off-the-shelf plan to privatize air traffic control hardly made a ripple in the vast sea of Comey-related news coverage, nor did a separate announcement Trump made Friday in which he described plans to streamline the nation’s permitting process for building roads, bridges, and other much-needed infrastructure projects. He promised to create a new permitting council to coordinate the federal approvals process, although, as the White House later conceded, the council he described already exists.
Now, as the news media remains stubbornly fixated on all things Comey, it is Ivanka Trump’s turn at counter-programming. On Saturday, the president’s daughter and West Wing adviser announced that this coming week will be “workforce development week”—what the White House hopes will allow for the rare moment of bipartisan agreement. “We’re very committed on focusing on the American worker, supporting working families and creating a pathway for them to have robust careers and great long-term employment,” Ivanka said on a call with reporters on Friday. “There’s tremendous opportunity to ensure that the next generation of the American worker is trained in the skills of the future.”
The week will kick off with the president and his daughter traveling to a community college in Waukesha, Wisconsin. On Wednesday, Ivanka will lead a roundtable discussion at the White House with a group of 15 C.E.O.s on the topic of workforce development and will accompany her father to the Labor Department, where he will talk about actions the administration can take to further its goals to close the skills gap. And on Thursday, the two will hold another roundtable discussion at the White House, this time with governors who have made progress on jobs retraining in their states.
It’s hard to imagine that the effort can change the narrative of a White House under siege, though the mission fits in with what the First Daughter set out to do when she moved to Washington. But it’s not the first time that Ivanka has stepped into the spotlight to provide cover for her father. On the campaign trail, she offered polish where he was pugnacious, and sold wary voters on the assumption that she would be a moderating force in his ear. She introduced him on stage at the Republican National Convention at a moment when he desperately needed to appeal to female voters, and conducted interview after interview and stump speech after stump speech at some of his lowest moments during the presidential race. She was a living, breathing example that the intemperate candidate must be capable of doing good if he raised and supported a woman like her. Even Hillary Clinton said so in a presidential debate.
Now that Trump is in office, and facing some of the most critical weeks of his presidency thus far, Ivanka is stepping forward again, taking next week to promote what the White House is billing as real progress, even as the rest of the White House’s policy agenda has ground to a halt.
For Ivanka and her husband, cleaning up after family is a habit ingrained and practiced for decades, when Trump’s daughter began serving as the well-spoken, glamorous face of the Trump Organization, and Kushner took over his own family’s real-estate empire after his father was sent to prison. A keen sense of branding, too, is second nature. While the rest of the White House is plagued by scandal, the First Daughter and First Son-in-Law have mostly quarantined themselves in the West Wing by devoting their energies to infrastructure and workforce training—the two most innocuous components of an otherwise divisive policy agenda. Both issues have the added benefit of dovetailing with their personal brands: Ivanka recently published a book about women in the workforce, and Kushner remains connected to his family’s real-estate empire. Trump’s new focus on apprenticeship programs even sounds like a continuation of his reality TV program, aptly named The Apprentice, which catapulted him (and his daughter) to early 2000s fame.
The White House was quick to laugh off the connection. “While we appreciate the connection, that will not, other than maybe as a passing joke, be tied in [to workforce development week],” a senior administration official said on Friday.