Donald Trump's incoming administration has a stated and demonstrated aversion to addressing climate change in any significant way. His transition team includes energy experts tied to the oil industry alongside climate change deniers. He's reportedly considering the CEO of ExxonMobil to serve as secretary of state. The current administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency says the transition team has contacted it precisely once.
.@GinaEPA says Trump team still hasn't contacted EPA other than one individual reaching out shortly before Thanksgiving.
— Emily Holden (@emilyhholden) December 5, 2016
Trump's White House chief of staff Reince Priebus assured Fox News viewers last week that, contrary to what Trump apparently told the New York Times, Trump still thinks that most of climate change "is a bunch of bunk" — but added that Trump will "have an open mind and listen to people." Trump's called climate change a hoax and repeatedly claimed that cold winters disprove the theory.
Then, on Monday, the Trump transition's communications team had an unexpected update for reporters.
"One of the first meetings that's coming up here shortly," Jason Miller said on a conference call, "Ivanka Trump will be meeting with Al Gore at Trump Tower to discuss climate issues." (Gore wasn't expected to meet with the president-elect, but subsequent reports indicate that he did after his meeting with Ivanka.)
Last week, Politico reported that the president-elect's oldest daughter wanted to act as something of a "climate czar" for his administration, championing climate issues as the first daughter of the United States. The Times suggested that Ivanka Trump might end up being "the most powerful first daughter in history," which is a lower bar than it might seem at first. (The competition is limited.) But the broader point is the same: Trump may see herself as a "strong inside force" within the Trump administration, as former Hillary Clinton aide Anne-Marie Slaughter put it to the Times.
The problem, of course, is that Ivanka Trump is supposed to be running the family business, acting as an outside control ensuring that there's at least something of a firewall between the actions of the president-elect and the effects on his pocketbook.
The younger Trump has already tried to leverage her father's new position in the public eye directly, with her clothing line pitching sales of the dress she wore at the convention and, more recently, a bracelet she wore on "60 Minutes." (The latter was blamed on a junior employee.)
The meeting with Gore appears to be leveraging her position in another way. Gore has long been one of the most prominent figures in the climate change movement, thanks to his 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." The value to Gore is clear: If the influential daughter of the incoming president wants to discuss your pet issue, you take the meeting. The meaning of the meeting for Trump is less clear. Will she try to steer the transition effort (of which she is a part) based on what she learns? Will she try to steer the administration (from which she's supposed to be separated) once the inauguration rolls around?
More importantly, how much influence can any non-Donald-Trump figure have in shaping his views? In 2009, Trump endorsed taking action on climate change in a full-page newspaper ad, joining other business leaders — including his daughter — in arguing that climate action could be a boon for business. Within months, though, Trump was railing against climate change in an interview on Fox News. The business interests expressed in the ad that was agreed to by his company apparently didn't match up with the personal views of the company's CEO.
Ivanka Trump was also in the news on Monday following reports that she and husband Jared Kushner were house-hunting in D.C. Kushner was a key adviser to Trump during the campaign, but it's not clear how he can serve in the Trump administration, given anti-nepotism laws. But he and Ivanka may be nearby anyway, despite her being one of the three principals guiding the Trump-Tower-based Trump Organization's day-to-day operations.
Ivanka Trump's most important role for her father may be the one she played in the campaign: acting as his softer face. At the convention, she proposed a position on child care that Trump himself had never offered; it eventually made its way into television spots that aired on woman-focused networks. Ivanka Trump's meeting with Gore can be embraced by those who want to see a more moderate Trump as an example of how Trump's positions may not be as fervent as he suggests with his Cabinet and transition picks.
But the Trumps can't have it both ways. Ivanka can't be an influential insider and an independent outsider. Trump can't have anti-climate staffers and get credit for his climate-friendly daughter.
Ivanka Trump apparently wants to champion issues in the name of her father (issues with which he apparently disagrees) all while serving as part of the seemingly porous barrier between the president and his business empire. The Gore meeting highlights that incongruity between the interests of Ivanka Trump and her father. But more importantly, it highlights the extent to which the president-elect's transfer of his business interests to his kids simply kicks the conflict of interest down a branch on the family tree.