As her father tossed out rolls of paper towels and held up flashlights to those recovering from the devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico on Tuesday, Ivanka Trump pulled up to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The First Daughter and assistant to President Donald Trump, her dad, was there to sit on a keynote panel with Kellyanne Conway as part of the “Keeping a Career on the Move” military spouse symposium—a one-day personal and professional development conference designed for military spouses planning to enter or re-enter the workforce and take the next steps in their work lives. Afterwards, she posted four tweets about the event, including seven photos of her hugging and posing with people in uniform and a video of military spouses giving her a standing ovation as she entered the pavilion for the event.
The trip comes a week after Ivanka traveled to Detroit, as part of the administration’s rollout of a program that directs the Department of Education to push $200 million in grant money toward science, technology, engineering, and math education for kindergartners through twelfth-graders. She was on hand to announce that companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce pledged $300 million in partnership with the administration push to prepare students for careers in technology, and called 20 governors urging them to submit grant applications. A week earlier, she traveled with her father back to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. There, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, and diplomats from India and Australia asked to meet her about empowering female entrepreneurs and apprenticeship programs—two hallmarks of the White House agenda she has been zeroing in, particularly since the summer.
Jivanka is in the process of being redefined. These are not the meetings with heads of state and high-level personnel or policy discussions and Oval Office breeze-through privileges that marked their first few months in the West Wing. As a White House official told me, the West Wing used to be the Wild Wild West and everyone felt like they had to be involved in every crisis to play defense to protect the president. That perhaps helps explain why it was Jared Kushner who, at the beginning of the administration, was the go-to for foreign leaders looking for inroads to the new president. Ivanka sat in on his first meeting as president-elect with a head of state, the prime minister of Japan. Both advised him on his immigration ban; traveled with him in lockstep during his first overseas trip; were present the weekend he decided to fire former F.B.I. director James Comey; were present in many major senior-level meetings on almost every kind of presidential decision; coaxed him to oust Corey Lewandowski from the campaign, Chris Christie from the transition, Sean Spicer from the White House podium, and Reince Priebus from his perch as chief of staff.
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But since John Kelly took over as chief of staff this summer, as Politico reported over the weekend, the couple has drilled down into issue-specific lanes, with Ivanka Trump focused on issues related to workforce development, female entrepreneurship, and working families and him spending more time on the Middle East and NAFTA.
At the time of Kelly’s ascent, the White House official told me that they were “thrilled” with the decision. Primarily, they were looking forward to any sort of structure that would allow them to keep their heads down on their work and their names out of headlines pillorying them for their roles within the administration. They were getting hammered over and over again in the press for their free-range role and expectations about their outsized influence, and some order would allow them to step back from feeling like they needed to be in every meeting and involved in every decision.
While the structure Kelly imposed has been welcome, it hasn’t reduced the amount of incoming fire appreciably. Weeks after he took over, white supremacists and neo-Nazis wielding tiki torches and waving swastika signs marched through Charlottesville and protesters rallied to oppose them. The president repeatedly stated that there were “very fine people” on both sides. The criticism for Kushner and Ivanka, both practicing modern orthodox Jews with three Jewish children, was swift. Once again, the questions of how they could not resign and why they were not speaking out circled for days. Soon after, The Wall Street Journal reported that some of Trump’s lawyers thought of Kushner, whose conduct is being looked at by federal investigators and congressional committees looking into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia during the 2016 election, as a liability and even drafted a statement explaining his departure. Last month, the couple came under fire again after Politico reported that they set up their own private e-mail server over which they communicated with White House officials to conduct business.
The White House official told me that the old scramble to be in every meeting doesn’t exist anymore because there is a process now in place. Kushner and Ivanka got everything they wanted—the structure, professionalism, the people they wanted out—and yet they’re still under attack.
The criticism wears on her more than it does him, the official added. But two people familiar with the conversations said that it also weighs on the president, who has expressed concern to them and other staffers that his family members are constantly under attack and feels protective. “Baby, you’re getting killed, this is a bad deal,” Trump told Ivanka, according to Politico.
Complicating matters is that Jared is the White House official most deeply implicated in Robert Mueller’s investigation. His presence in the White House and contacts with the president have caused headaches for their lawyers.
This has prompted talk amongst those who know them about whether or not they’ll stick it out in Washington or move back to New York. One person close to the family said that any talks are still in the early stages, but that the conversations amongst their circle are happening. Another person close to the Trumps added that the president has discussed the idea but nothing is imminent. Two people in their orbit speculated about the bank-shot notion that one way to get the couple to gracefully leave D.C. without seeming like they are abandoning their posts would be for Ivanka to fill an administration position stationed in New York, though there is no indication that this is anything Ivanka herself has considered or discussed. (An administration official shrugged it off as nonsense from ill-informed sources.)
One person familiar with the conversations said that the talk about them leaving is not real, though there are people there who would want them to leave. “Does that mean it’s never going to happen? Of course not.”
If past is prologue in the Trump West Wing, the start of any rumor that a staffer is on their way out has meant that they will leave. It took one day before the mill started churning about how long former press secretary Sean Spicer would last, with reports of his impending doom swirling for months before he ultimately stepped down in July. The same was true for Priebus and former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who also both got fired this summer.
Now that the notion of Ivanka and Jared leaving the West Wing has started percolating, the question is whether or not they will become a casualty of the same curse or if they can, as members of this royal family, withstand it. Of course, the circumstances are very different in their case. Nepotism, to start with, is a prime Trumpian principle. They also happen to be the last remaining people who are truly loyal to the president, after his longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller left the White House last month.
There are also personal reasons for them to stay. Ivanka’s current portfolio will presumably serve her well in a private sector, post-White House life. The same could be said for Kushner’s work in his Office of American Innovation. “They want to be helpful to the president,” one of the people close to the family told me, “But I think there’s an aspect of them of wanting to increase their power and visibility.”
Another reason to stay might be the fact that they would likely be returning to a different New York than the one they left behind. Many of the friends they socialized with have turned their backs on them; Kushner’s family business is in the fight of its life as its debt soon comes due on its trophy property, 666 Fifth Avenue; so far, no buyer has jumped in to rescue it. “The problem is, when they come back here, it’s not going to be the same place,” the other person close to them told me. “Yes, they’ve made some new friends but [Jared’s] going to have a much harder time with his business. The reality is that people associate him with some of the most disastrous moves of the administration and people don’t want to be part of that.”