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East Wing

Should Ivanka Trump be the next first lady?

By WITW Staff on December 18, 2016

Eighteen months ago, some experts speculated that the next first lady of the United States could be the first daughter. The name that was being mentioned at the time was Chelsea Clinton, as some observers thought Bill Clinton might not be up to the typical duties of a first lady. Now, once again, speculation is emerging suggesting that a first daughter could actually end up being first lady.

Some news reports are suggesting that Ivanka Trump, daughter of the president-elect, could end up serving as the de-facto first lady rather than his wife, Melania. Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg thinks that — despite all the obvious issues such an arrangement raises — this might not even be that bad of an idea, if only to shake up the first lady’s position, a job that has been steeped in tradition and comes with no salary. “It remains completely bizarre that there is a position in the federal government that a person is required to take simply because their spouse is elected to a complementary job, regardless of that person’s interests, inclination or passion for the career they actually chose,” Rosenberg wrote in a column last week. “It’s even weirder that this job, which demands long hours and an extraordinary public performance as the nation’s surrogate mother or cool friend, is both mandatory and unpaid. In a way, the continuing existence of the first lady’s job is a high-profile barometer for how roles for women have or haven’t evolved in the United States.”

Rosenberg points out that there is historical precedent for the first lady position being filled by women who were not the president’s spouse, and making the role an official White House hosting position could accomplish several things. One would be to acknowledge that social functions are critical to a president’s work, another would be to establish the function as one with clear boundaries and responsibilities. “Nothing in Trump’s record so far suggests that he would manage these questions with deftness or intellectual curiosity,”  Rosenberg writes. “But if he wants to charge ahead and involve Ivanka Trump in his administration, this desire might force more sophisticated legal and ethical minds to tackle a role that generally has been defined by tradition and custom. The first lady’s job is a ridiculous anachronism. Perhaps this ridiculous administration in the making will accidentally do something about it,” she speculated.

Another column in the The Washington Post, noting that Ivanka has reportedly sought office space in the East Wing of the White House, the first lady’s traditional domain, also sees Ivanka potentially revolutionizing the first lady position. Kate Andersen Brower, the author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies and The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House surmised that Ivanka could become the most powerful first lady in U.S. history. Brower points out that Ivanka has been front and center in many of her father’s meetings since he won the election, including at the summit with tech industry leaders held at Trump Tower last week, and “appears poised to be an adviser, advocate and hostess all at once.” She recalls an interview with Rosalyn Carter, who insisted on attending President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet meetings. “When I interviewed Rosalynn Carter earlier this year, she clearly remembered the uproar over her decision to sit in on her husband’s cabinet meetings, even though she did so without saying a word,” Brower writes. “Then, first ladies were expected to hide their influence.” With Ivanka taking that role, Brower expects that culture would suddenly change in a dramatic way.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.


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