USA Politics First Look

Ivanka Trump: a first daughter with the office of first lady?

Ivanka Trump will reportedly assume some of the functions of first lady, raising questions about federal nepotism laws. 

Ivanka Trump, daughter of President-elect Donald Trump, in an elevator as she arrives as at Trump Tower, Nov. 21, 2016, New York. Ivanka will reportedly have an office in the East Wing of the White House.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
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Ivanka Trump is expected to play a prominent role in the White House, as incoming first lady Melania Trump plans to live at home in New York City while her 10-year-old son remains in his school.

The eldest daughter of President-elect Donald Trump will assume many of the roles of first lady, as well as advise her father on issues such as family leave and climate change, CNN first reported Thursday. Trump transition aides are already planning for the East Wing of the White House becoming an “Office of the First Family,” not just the first lady, sources told CNN.

Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, had the ear of Mr. Trump during the campaign. But the prospect of those relationships extending to the White House has raised questions about whether they would be in violation of federal nepotism laws first enacted in 1967. But some argue Ivanka stepping in for her stepmother could be a good thing for the important but murky role of first lady.

“[It] would acknowledge that the White House's social functions are a critically important part of the work of a presidential administration, helping to set the tone for the president's interactions with hugely accomplished people as well as ordinary Americans,” writes Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg. 

Managing the upkeep of an important national landmark, acting as an ambassador for bipartisan causes and welcoming all sorts of Americans aren't the same as mining coal, but that doesn't mean they aren't valuable national functions – so valuable that we insist someone be around to do them.

The first lady is expected, but not required to serve as an entertainer and advocate. She is usually the official hostess of the White House and undertakes some kind of advocacy work. But because those are unofficial duties, Melania has said she wants to stay in New York City with her son, Barron, while he finishes the school year.

“Barron is the priority for now and he needs me at this age,” Melania told US Weekly earlier this year. “He needs a parent at home, and I like to keep it as normal as possible.”

Meanwhile, Ivanka has also been at her father’s side. In addition to being a top adviser during his campaign, she joined him in a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shortly after Trump was elected president.

Her husband, Mr. Kushner, has also consulted with lawyers about how he could join the Trump administration, according to The New York Times.

Federal nepotism rules enacted after former President John F. Kennedy appointed his brother, Robert, to Attorney General restricts a public official from hiring any family member to an agency or office over which he has authority, as the Times previously reported. A separate statute makes it a crime for government employees to accept voluntary services that are not authorized by law, except in emergency situations.  

But Kushner has reportedly explored whether a loophole in the law – that any appointee in violation of the law is not “entitled to pay” by the federal government – could be used to his advantage. In other words, could Kushner and Ivanka forgo paychecks while they serve the administration?

When Melania first announced her intention to remain in New York City, an author of a book about presidents’ children indicated the Trump children as the first family would serve the administration well. Doug Wead, who also worked under President George H.W. Bush, told the Associated Press the Trump children will know how to entertain.

"You have this unusual situation where you have a president who doesn't have political experience, but he has business experience,” said Mr. Wead.

Ivanka stepping in for her stepmother isn’t entirely unprecedented either. Relatives have stepped in for first ladies that traveled or were at home. When Jackie Kennedy was away, President Kennedy’s mother or sisters would fill in. If Bess Truman was home in Missouri, her daughter, Margaret, would play hostess. Julie Nixon sometimes appeared on behalf of her mother, Pat Nixon.

Widowed or bachelor presidents also had their nieces play the part. Emily Donelson was a hostess for the widowed Andrew Jackson, according to The Washington Post. Harriet Lane served as first lady for her uncle James Buchanan, who never married.

Hillary Clinton also raised questions about her status as first lady or adviser when she chaired a health care task force for her president-husband. A 1993 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that as chair Mrs. Clinton was acting as a full-time government employee and thus the panel could shield its meetings and records from the public. The decision hinted the 1967 anti-nepotism statute might not have been meant to apply to the White House or to unpaid positions, according to The New York Times. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.