Ivanka Trump’s first official visit as an unofficial White House adviser started on shaky ground.
She appeared on a panel discussion at the W20 women’s summit on Tuesday in Berlin, but instead of defining her role in the administration, found herself backing onto an all too familiar stoop – loyal daughter in defense mode.
It was all part of a packed visit to Berlin, to which she was “personally invited” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Ms. Trump also visited the Holocaust Memorial, a Siemens factory (in part to learn about Germany’s dual-education system) and was guest of honor at a gala dinner hosted by Deutsche Bank.
Appearing on stage at the W20 summit with a powerful all-female group including Ms. Merkel, International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, Ms. Trump was asked to explain how she interprets her work at the White House.
“The German audience is not that familiar with the concept of a first daughter,” said moderator Miriam Meckel, publisher of Handelsblatt’s sister publication WirtschaftsWoche. “I’d like to ask you, what is your role, and who are you representing, your father as president of the United States, the American people, or your business?”
“Certainly not the latter,” she answered swiftly, leading into a long-winded response of how she hoped to enact “incremental positive change” and to bring “knowledge back to the United States” from the summit. “I’m rather unfamiliar with this role as well,” she said, adding: “It has been a little under 100 days and it has just been a remarkable and incredible journey.”
It wasn’t the last time Ms. Trump was pressed in front of the majority-female crowd, later being booed for praising her father’s stance on parental paid leave.
“I am very, very proud of my father’s advocacy (for supporting paid leave policies),” said the first daughter. “Long before he came into the presidency… he’s been a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive.”
She was interrupted by Ms. Meckel amidst the clamor. “You hear the reaction from the audience,” said the moderator. “I need to address one more point. Some attitudes toward women your father has displayed might leave one questioning whether he’s such an empower-er for women.”
All too easily Ms. Trump was stuck defending her father again, evoking uncomfortable memories of sexual assault accusations and misogynistic remarks on a hot mic during the campaign trail.
“I’ve certainly heard the criticism from the media that’s been perpetuated,” she said. “But I know from personal experience … thousands of women who have worked with and for my father for decades when he was in the private sector are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women and their ability to do the job as well as any man.”
The focus was taken off Ms. Trump in just a matter of time though, when the German chancellor shifted into the hot seat, asked if she considered herself to be a feminist.
“The history of feminism is one where there are similarities with me and then there are differences. I would not like to decorate myself with a title I don’t actually have,” said Ms. Merkel after a long pause, which originally drew audience chuckles.
Her opinion changed after Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, also on the panel, described a feminist as “someone who wants all women to have the chance to be happy and proud of themselves.” After that, the chancellor asserted: “Then I am one.”
Ms. Trump named herself a feminist too, but the appearance only proved it will still be some time before she gets to start talking about the issues of female empowerment she cares so much about, instead of being her father’s bulwark.
Barbara Woolsey is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: B.Woolsey@extern.vhb.de