Flying commercial is a typical Ivanka Trump thing; she does it on most public trips. As first daughter and senior adviser to the president, she is both an extension of her father, and the most diplomatic, gauzy-lit version of him, self-tasked with being an emissary for the least divisive parts of his administration. Such as criminal justice reform. And wanting people to have jobs. Which is how she found herself a mile outside of downtown in sunny Indianapolis on the grounds of this maximum-security facility touring workforce development programs.
This was Day 2 of a whirlwind visit to the Hoosier State, and she would be spending it with a hodgepodge bipartisan group of top business leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and the rapper MC Hammer. (Why MCHammer? Because he cares about prison reform. He’s legit.)
Back in Washington, President Trump was in the fight of his political life and looking for ways to turn it to his advantage. As his daughter greeted inmates and prison staff, the president tweeted that he hoped the “Do Nothing Democrats” would impeach him quickly, and said they were “demeaning our country,” while other reports were saying he was coming around to the idea of a slow Senate trial in which he could try to call the Bidens as witnesses.
To watch Ivanka Trump was to be in an alternate universe. Away from Washington, and in a decidedly friendly red state, she was as “focused as ever,” she said in a brief interview.
Asked how impeachment was affecting her ability to get work done, she said, “It doesn’t. . . . As far as I’m concerned, we have a finite amount of time to have as much impact as possible for the benefit of the people of this country, so we’re heads-down focused on what will actually matter to everyday Americans.”
The day was centered on her agenda, and she strode confidently through the prison halls, the first to enter each room, the first to shake her greeters’ hands. She’s made several of these trips — usually covered by small and regional news outlets or the international press: a Dallas roundtable in October with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, a visit to Morocco in November to promote her global women’s economic development initiative.
Members of her family risk getting booed when they go to Democratic territory. But on a tightly controlled tour of Indianapolis highlights put together by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, in the state that Vice President Pence once governed, Ivanka is something akin to royalty.
While still in her car, at 7:45 a.m., she’d called in to chat with conservative radio talk show host Tony Katz, whose bio says he “eats steak, smokes cigars, drives trucks and believes bedrooms are no place for government.” They spoke for a jovial nine minutes, as Ivanka nailed her talking points on “re-skilling” and “upskilling” workers in “this roaring economy.” Katz did not ask her about impeachment, and she did not offer her view.
Then, without the media, she visited prisoners’ classes on cooking, cosmetology and making mosquito nets. She later raved about a program in which inmates trained service dogs and then facilitated their introduction to disabled owners.
The final stop on the first daughter’s tour was a classroom where model prisoners learned to build websites as part of a coding skills educational program run by a national nonprofit group, the Last Mile. The incarcerated women said they’d only heard that morning that Trump was visiting, and they were thrilled to see her.
Whatever is happening with her father and the Oval Office, she has unfailingly remained on message. From afar, she often seems to move in a political world jarringly disconnected from him.
But up close, the degree of separation between Ivanka and her father, between her showmanship and his — her drama and his — is nearly imperceptible. She is far more measured in what she says, but she is also a confident and loquacious speaker who doesn’t shy away from a meeting with a music world celebrity or the nation’s top chief executives.
She, Ross, Cook, Holcomb, Hammer (whose given name is Stanley Kirk Burrell, and who has been with the Last Mile since its inception at San Quentin in 2010), and Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon watched at 9:08 a.m. as these women showed them impressive presentations of the businesses they hoped to build after doing their time: a flower delivery service, a diabetes educational app, a cat cafe.
There were no breaking news chyrons scrolling the news as Ivanka chatted with Hammer. In fact, in this prison the only Internet-carrying devices had been brought in by the visitors and the media following them. The nonprofit organization, founded by Chris Redlitz and his wife, Beverly Parenti, had to create an offline Google-like environment to teach the inmates to code. And even with those challenges, graduates have gone on to get jobs at such places as Slack, with a zero-percent recidivism rate.
Ivanka said she didn’t know Hammer before this Indiana trip. According to prison staff, this was the third or fourth time Hammer had visited. He’s a longtime friend of Redlitz’s and, Redlitz said, volunteered to do whatever he could for the Last Mile as soon as he heard the idea, because he knew so many incarcerated people when he was growing up in Oakland. When asked to say a few words, Hammer threw the floor “without delay” to Talesa Howell, an inmate and recovering addict with a turquoise face tattoo who wants to sell flowers.
“Today I stand here as a woman who has a plan for a hope and a future,” she began before explaining the complex Web design problems she’d solved.
The tiny classroom was packed: Ivanka stood front and center amid the group of elected officials and millionaire CEOs (sometimes one and the same); 13 students and their teacher in maroon polo shirts and khakis sitting behind donated computers; and at least as many members of the media capturing it all.
As the final of three presenters finished up, Ivanka spoke to the students.
“It’s just absolutely extraordinary, and I have to say I was blown away by the presentations,” she said, beaming and looking blown away. She said she loved seeing how they’d gained technical and communication skills that would help them in the job market and how they’d merged their passions with coding skills. “I love seeing the diversity in this room, and we all know the tech ecosystem doesn’t have enough women,” she said, “so that’s great.”
It was about 9:21 a.m.
Meanwhile, about 9:15 a.m., 580 miles away on Capitol Hill, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had announced at a news conference that she would be asking Democratic committee chairs to proceed with drafting articles of impeachment against President Trump.
The stated purpose for Ivanka Trump's visit to Indiana had been the fourth quarterly meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, a task force that President Trump set up by a 2018 executive order to encourage private sector employers and academic institutions to come up with creative solutions to combat the gulf between workers' skill sets and available jobs.
After the presentations by the inmates about 9:43 a.m., the group went to the prison chapel, where Ivanka Trump would spend the next two hours presiding over the CEOs and Ross in a board meeting that she repeatedly called “exciting.” Topics included a “multiple pathways” ad campaign that will highlight ways other than a college degree to get a job, and a database connecting workers to job vacancies that sounded a lot like LinkedIn. She made no mention of anything else going on in the world that might have a massive impact on her family.
Ross had to leave early for “an unexpected White House meeting,” as he said from the dais.
“It’s merely a distraction,” Ross said of the impeachment proceedings in an interview before he left. “The sad thing is that Congress should really be doing things to help Mr. and Mrs. America and pass the USMCA” — a new North American trade agreement. “That will bring 176,000 jobs and $30 billion dollars. That’s what they should be doing instead of this distraction.” (They were doing it, and four days later Pelosi would announce that Democrats and the White House had reached an agreement on that trade deal.)
As for the news about Pelosi moving forward on impeachment, he said. “Well, that’s no great surprise. That’s one of the least well-kept secrets.”
After the board meeting, Ivanka talked about skills training programs she wanted to do to in prisons like this or rural communities. “So as far as we’re concerned, we continue to move forward and focus on our job. That’s why we moved to Washington,” she said. “That’s what inspires us — the impact — and that’s where we continue to prioritize our time.” (It was unclear whether the “we” and “us” referred to her and her husband, Jared Kushner, who also advises the president, or all of the Trumps. While doing their government jobs, she and Kushner also made at least $82 million last year in outside income.)
Two days after this Indiana visit, Ivanka would claim a triumph when Congress reached a bipartisan agreement on giving 12 weeks of paid family leave to federal employees, one of Ivanka’s top policy priorities. The paid family leave is tucked into a defense bill and was a concession for what Democrats say President Trump wanted more: the creation of Space Force as the sixth military branch.
Four days later, news would break that Ivanka had been friendly with Christopher Steele, the former spy hired by an opposition research firm in 2016 to research then-candidate Trump’s Russian ties. She’s never spoken about that relationship, though her father has repeatedly bashed Steele and his dossier.
Hours after that, further news broke that Ivanka will be hosting a summit to discuss federal paid family leave, but did not invite Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) or Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), who are sponsors on a different paid-family-leave bill and have been championing the issue since well before Ivanka moved to Washington.
Then this Tuesday, as Democrats were introducing their articles of impeachment and Speaker Pelosi was holding her news conference about the USMCA deal, Ivanka Trump went to Capitol Hill and gave an interview to McClatchy.
“Do you think that’s a coincidence?” she said of Democrats’ back-to-back announcements.
Ivanka told the McClatchy reporter that she had just been meeting with Republicans to discuss paid family leave and the USMCA, among other issues. Impeachment was not her focus.
“We focus on that which we can control. This was a predetermined outcome for the Democrats,” she said. “What we can control is the work we’re doing to advance the American peoples’ agenda, creating jobs, creating a climate for growth, and that’s where our energies are focused.”
"What do you think, should we do this?" Ivanka announced last Wednesday to everyone and no one, when she arrived to her first of three public events over the two days in Indianapolis.
The odd trio of Ivanka, Ross and Hammer had spent the day speeding around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (home to the Indy 500) at 130 miles per hour, as part of a “Welcome to Indiana” gesture set up by Gov. Holcomb. They were in the front passenger seats of Chevy Impala pace cars driven by professional drivers.
“That was awesome. Amazing!” said Ivanka Trump upon exiting. “I’m not going to be driving that fast for a while.”
“That gives back-seat driving new meaning,” said Ross, who also described the drive as “a little scary.”
Someone could be overheard wondering aloud about the last time Ross, who is 82 and worth at least $600 million, according to Forbes, had actually driven a car.
Then Trump and Ross posed for pictures in the winner’s circle on the Victory Podium. Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles, who was giving their tour, told them that normally they’d drink a glass of milk and get sprayed with it, but it was a little cold, so they’d be spared the ritual.
The winners went on to check out classic cars at the Motor Speedway Museum about the same time that four constitutional law professors were ending their testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee about whether they thought there were constitutional grounds for impeachment. Three experts said yes. The fourth argued against impeachment.
As the group attended a private dinner overlooking the track, Ivanka’s stepmother, Melania Trump, sent out a stern tweet condemning Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan for invoking the name of her teenage son, Barron, to make a point during her impeachment testimony.
Ivanka was focused and commented on none of this on the record.
It had been two days running around Indianapolis with MC Hammer and Wilbur Ross, two laps around the speedway, one trip to a prison, one board meeting, one red-state-friendly radio interview, zero boos and near-zero talk of impeachment.
She left prison grounds in a black SUV around 11:50 a.m. By 2:38 p.m. she and her contingent of staff and Secret Service officers had crammed into priority seats in a small American Airlines plane headed back to Washington.