The photo tells you everything and nothing.
Ivanka Trump sits beaming in the president’s chair. President Trump stands behind his older daughter, resting a hand on her back. To the right is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in town for a meeting about trade, the economy … and women.
Women in business is Ivanka Trump’s self-professed forte, and the appearance was her most prominent White House visit since she announced she would take a leave of absence from her apparel company and move to Washington. She even stayed quiet last week when Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to the president, was accused of violating ethics rules for promoting Ivanka Trump's brand on television. But the first daughter's appearance does little to explain what role she will play in her father's administration.
Ivanka Trump has crafted her brand around boosting women at work, publishing tips on how to build a career while raising a family. Her next book, out in May, is called “Women Who Work.”
Back in July, at the Republican National Convention, she introduced Trump with a speech that broke from the party’s platform, asserting lawmakers must better support female breadwinners.
Then, Trump credited his daughter with influencing his plan to create a paid maternity leave program and allow parents to deduct child-care costs from their taxes.
But thus far, Trump has spoken about lifting women without mentioning the policies he pitched with his daughter in September, and she operates in his White House without a clear role.
The picture Ivanka Trump tweeted Monday shows a close familial bond — and enormous political access.
“A great discussion,” she wrote, “with two world leaders about the importance of women having a seat at the table!”
Patricia Phalen, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University in the District, said the situation is unique. Previous presidents didn’t have grown children living in Washington.
“There’s no precedent for it,” Phalen said. “Though first families do meet foreign leaders. If she was 5 years old, everyone would say, oh that’s cute! She’s sitting in her father’s chair.”
Ivanka Trump's appearance at the White House came less than a week after her father slammed the retailer Nordstrom for cutting ties with her apparel brand, generating debate over whether the president should defend his family’s private business while leading the country.
I am so proud of my daughter Ivanka. To be abused and treated so badly by the media, and to still hold her head so high, is truly wonderful!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2017
The law prohibits the president from filling executive roles with family — a rule President Trump has already tested by hiring Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser. Since the election, Ivanka Trump, however, has attended meetings with at least two foreign leaders and has spoken to one on the phone.
On Feb. 7, she gathered with business leaders to discuss, off the record, ways to help women overcome barriers at work. On Monday, she sat with Trump and Trudeau, addressing — again, off the record — challenges that female business leaders face.
Officially, Ivanka Trump has stepped down from her executive role at the Trump Organization and has said she handed over management of her namesake clothing line in January.
“My husband, Jared, and I will be moving with our family to Washington, D.C.,” she wrote last month on Facebook. “I plan to take time to settle our three young children into their new home and schools.”
Rumors swirled she would actually step into the traditional first lady role since Trump’s wife, Melania, planned to stay in New York City to keep their 10-year-old son Baron at his school.
In a January interview, Ivanka Trump told ABC’s Deborah Roberts such speculation was false. Roberts pushed her on what she’d actually do.
“Will you have an office in the East Wing?” the interviewer asked. “Do you have a sense of what you think you want to carve out as a role?”
The first daughter stayed vague.
“Today my focus is really just moving to Washington,” she said, “traveling around the country and listening.”
And people continue to wonder:
What is Ivanka Trump doing here? pic.twitter.com/nb5okMqoYO
— Noga Tarnopolsky (@NTarnopolsky) February 13, 2017
— Alan Vanover (@alanrvanover) February 4, 2017
More on Wonkblog:
Ivanka Trump spoke like a Democrat and Republicans absolutely loved it
The contractor that designs Ivanka Trump’s clothes does not offer a single day of paid maternity leave
Nordstrom broke the curse of the Trump tweet