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Ivanka Trump Will Fulfill First Lady Duties, With Melania Trump Living in New York City

With the First Lady largely absent, and Tiffany at Harvard Law School, Ivanka Will Appear Publicly


December 29, 2016

Ivanka with her sister, Tiffany Trump. Ivanka loves to entertain, and plans to advocate for equal pay and maternity leave for women. In doing so, she will fill much of the traditional First Lady Role. Elusive Melania will likely be absent from the public eye, quietly raising her son Barron in New York City.

Ivanka Trump has denied that she wants any sort of post in her father's White House. She insists that she has no ambitions. "I just want to be a good daughter," but it's clear that she will be much more than that to the Trump administration. An attractive and vibrant woman, she will no doubt fit the bill well, as First Daughter. With the First Lady planning to be largely absent, Ivanka will make an ideal substitute First Lady.

Ivanka Trump, 32, and her sister, Tiffany Trump, 23, campaigned together. Ivanka loves to entertain, is used to being by her fathers side running his businesses. She plans to advocate for equal pay and maternity leave for women. In doing so, she will fill much of the traditional First Lady Role. Elusive Melania will likely be absent from the public eye, quietly raising her son Barron in New York City.

She will be sent to events when Donald is too busy or too far away to attend; she will meet with people he cannot meet, and she will deliver speeches in front of female audiences, given his past.

"We're in a time when all the molds are being broken," said Katherine Jellison, head of the history department at Ohio University and an authority on first ladies. "That may be the case where we have a redefining of a role that, after all, isn't in the Constitution."

With Melania Trump living with Barron in New York City's Trump Tower, other family members, like Trump's daughter Ivanka, could take hostess duties at times. There is plenty of historical precedent for First Daughters filling in for absent First Ladies. When Jackie Kennedy traveled, President John F. Kennedy's mother or sisters would fill in. If Bess Truman was home in Missouri, her daughter, Margaret, would play hostess during Harry Truman's presidency. Julie Nixon sometimes appeared on behalf of her mother, Pat Nixon.

However the events are organized, Doug Wead, who worked for President George H.W. Bush and wrote a book about presidents' children, said the Trumps are experts at event planning.

"You have this unusual situation where you have a president who doesn't have political experience, but he has business experience. They will know how to entertain," Wead said.

In terms of advocacy, Melania Trump has mentioned doing work that addresses bullying - a notable choice given the president-elect's love of name-calling on social media. It can take some time for the first lady to launch personal projects. Michelle Obama began her "Let's Move" initiative about a year into her husband's first term.

If Melania Trump tries to keep some distance from Washington even after she moves, she wouldn't be the first presidential spouse seeking space. Bess Truman often fled Washington for her hometown of Independence, Missouri. And Jackie Kennedy liked to travel in Europe.

"I'm not saying it has always been the case that first ladies and their families loved living in the White House," Jellison said. "There were many who spent a great deal of time away."

It will be one of many unusual things about a Donald Trump administration: a long-distance first lady. Trump will move into the White House after the Jan. 20 inauguration. Breaking with tradition, Melania Trump and 10-year-old son Barron plan to remain in New York City until at least the end of the school year.

While the decision sets Melania Trump apart from other first ladies - both Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton took on the move with school-age children in tow - it seems in character. The former model and naturalized U.S. citizen from Slovenia was an elusive figure in the campaign and had no political experience before her husband's stunningly successful outsider campaign.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller cited "sensitivity" about pulling Barron from school midyear. In an interview with US Weekly earlier this year, Melania Trump said: "Barron is the priority for now and he needs me at this age. He needs a parent at home, and I like to keep it as normal as possible."

Anita McBride, chief of staff to Laura Bush during her time in the White House, noted that Michelle Obama also weighed delaying her family's move for similar reasons, but "ultimately made a different decision and one that suited their family."

Just how Melania Trump will tackle the White House - and how she will be received by the public - is unclear. The first lady usually serves as the official hostess and typically undertakes some kind of advocacy work. Michelle Obama took on childhood obesity and other projects. But being first lady has no official duties or any clear playbook.

Married to Donald Trump for nearly 12 years, Melania Trump is his third wife. A U.S. citizen since 2006, she will be only the second first lady born outside the country. Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, was born in London to an American father and British mother.

"I cannot believe that little Theodore is 8 months old. Happy Birthday, little teddy bear!" tweeted Ivanka. Ivanka's birthday flub turned into an internet meme. Twitter wondered if she knew what a birthday was.

So far, Melania Trump's few forays into politics have been a mixed success. Her speech at the Republican National Convention was widely panned after the discovery of striking similarities of portions of her speech to the one delivered by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic convention. And she has had to defend her husband against accusations of sexual assault. She has challenged the veracity of reports that he imposed himself on women, despite his boasts in a 2005 video about doing so.

In the couple's first post-election interview, on CBS' "60 Minutes," Melania Trump said: "I will stay true to myself. I'm very strong and tough and confident."

For now, McBride said, the professional staff at the White House can do much of the event planning, with the first lady weighing in remotely and traveling down from time to time.

McBride noted one big event looming: the Governor's Ball in February, a standing event on the calendar.


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