This weekend, Ivanka Trump found herself thrust into a diplomatic scandal after filling in for her father during a meeting of world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg — an apparent breach of protocol that quickly sparked outrage among President Trump's critics.
Unsurprisingly, the president offered a passionate defense of his daughter, declaring that she had just stepped in while he had to attend other meetings and that having someone take his place at a top-level political meeting was “very standard” practice.
More surprisingly, he also cited the backing of another world leader as proof.
“Angela M. agrees!” Trump tweeted.
The president is correct. Despite criticism from other current and former officials about Ivanka Trump taking a seat at the world leaders' table on Saturday, Angela Merkel — the coolheaded leader of Germany since 2005 and viewed by some as the new “leader of the free world” — has emerged as an unlikely defender of the young Trump amid her G-20 controversy. Speaking at a news conference on Sunday, Merkel noted that, ultimately, it is up to a country to decide who steps in when its leader has to leave a meeting.
“The delegations themselves decide, should the president not be present for a meeting, who will then take over and sit in the chair,” Merkel told reporters. “Ivanka Trump was part and parcel of the American delegation, so that is something that other delegations also do. It’s very well known that she works at the White House and is also engaged in certain initiatives.”
Merkel's support for Ivanka comes despite numerous political disagreements between the United States and Germany at the moment — including President Trump's repeated criticisms of various Merkel policies, such as his claims that her immigration policies were “insane” and a “disaster.” And regardless of Merkel's supportive comments about his daughter, it's hard to imagine the German chancellor finding herself at the center of a controversy like the Trumps did at the G-20 summit. Merkel does not have any children.
Germans have noted for years that Merkel's husband, quantum chemist Joachim Sauer, shows a great reluctance to engage with the pomp and publicity that generally comes with being married to one of the world's most powerful leaders. For example, Sauer gained notoriety in the German press for refusing to appear at Merkel's 2005 inauguration and for flying alone on a budget airline to join the chancellor for a vacation in Italy when he could have just paid a token fee to join his wife on a government jet.
The attitude is probably, at least partly, a result of different upbringings. Like her modest husband, Merkel comes from a humble background in a divided Germany; though she was born in Hamburg, her family headed to communist East Germany because of the work of her father, a Lutheran pastor, when she was just a few weeks old.
It was certainly not the world of Trump Tower or Mar-a-Lago, where Ivanka came of age, or even the outer-borough luxury that her father enjoyed a generation earlier in New York. But even so, Merkel has shown a desire to engage with the U.S. president's daughter.
In April, the German chancellor invited her to attend the W20 Summit in Berlin. The pair spoke at an event dedicated to women's entrepreneurship, alongside Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. Ivanka received a frosty reception at the event — facing hissing and booing when she referred to her father as a “champion” for families.
At a gala dinner held a few hours later, Merkel thanked the first daughter for having “braved” the earlier event. “I hope we were a good audience for you and that you’ll take some new ideas home with you,” the chancellor said.
This engagement appears to have continued at the G-20 summit, with reports that Sauer hoped to take Ivanka on a tour of a climate research center in Hamburg, along with the spouses of other world leaders, though the plan was ultimately canceled because of protests. Germany's leader seems to believe that Ivanka could help influence her father on sensitive subjects such as climate change.
She may have a point. After all, when Trump left his seat on Saturday, it wasn't a Cabinet member or senior official who stepped in to take his place.