Ivanka Trump distanced herself from her father on two high-profile issues Thursday, saying that she did not agree with his characterization of the media as “the enemy of the people” and that she was “vehemently against” separating migrant children from their parents at the border — calling the latter a low point of her tenure in the White House.
Her comments at a public event underscored the difficult balance Trump has sought as she tries to preserve her reputation independent of an administration led by her father that is consistently courting controversy.
During her time in Washington, Ivanka Trump has attempted to be the face of the administration’s more centrist and bipartisan policy initiatives, such as paid family leave and workplace development. But that has failed to inoculate her from criticism over serving as an aide to her father, who has inflamed tensions with his words and policies on issues such as race, immigration and gender.
The result has been a rocky couple of years for the first daughter, culminating in her decision last month to shut down her namesake fashion and lifestyle brand, which had endured boycotts and flagging sales, and announce that she will instead focus on her work in the White House.
“It’s this constant idea that Ivanka can separate her personal brand from what’s going on in the White House, but she can’t,” said Republican strategist Rory Cooper, managing director at Purple Strategies, a communications firm. “She’s a senior adviser in the West Wing; she’s not just a daughter of a president. Family members of former presidents were able to be independent because they didn’t work in the White House. That’s not the case here.”
Toward the end of a forum hosted Thursday by the news site Axios that focused largely on workforce issues, Trump was asked whether she considered journalists in the room to be “the enemy of the people” — a charge often leveled by President Trump and a go-to line at his rallies.
“No, I do not,” she replied, prompting nervous laughter in the room.
Asked to elaborate, Trump offered what she said was “my own personal perspective.”
“I’ve certainly received my fair share of reporting on me personally that I know not to be fully accurate, so I have some sensitivity around why people have concerns and gripes, especially when they sort of feel targeted, but, no, I do not consider the media the enemy of the people,” she said.
President Trump has used the term on multiple occasions, and his animus for the media was on display again this week as he promoted a video on Twitter showing his supporters chanting “CNN sucks” as a reporter from the network did a live shot from the site of a campaign rally hosted by the president in Tampa.
The video was tweeted by Trump’s son Eric — who, along with Ivanka, attended the Tampa rally — and then shared by the president with his 53 million followers.
The president tweeted later Thursday that his “enemy of the people” line did not apply to all of the news media but rather “a large percentage” of it, a qualification that seemed to undermine the distinction he was making.
“They asked my daughter Ivanka whether or not the media is the enemy of the people,” Trump said. “She correctly said no. It is the FAKE NEWS, which is a large percentage of the media, that is the enemy of the people!”
At a rally Thursday night in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Trump was taking aim at the media again, prompting boos from the crowd as he decried the “fake, fake, disgusting news” for its coverage of his 2016 campaign.
The rally came hours after a testy briefing with reporters at which White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined invitations to echo Ivanka Trump’s earlier remarks and say that she did not consider the media to be “the enemy of the people.”
“I’m here to speak on behalf of the president,” Sanders said, ticking off several grievances against reporters.
“The president is rightfully frustrated,” Sanders said. “Ninety percent of the coverage on him is negative.”
During Thursday’s event at the Newseum in Washington, Ivanka Trump was also asked by the moderator, Mike Allen of Axios, to share the high point and low point of her time in the White House.
Allen suggested a possible low point for her: the separations of migrant children at the southern border that resulted from the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.
As a national controversy flared, Ivanka Trump reportedly asked her father to end the practice but remained publicly silent, prompting harsh criticism in some quarters — including from comedian Samantha Bee, who made nationa headlines by using a vulgarity to describe Trump’s reticence.
After Allen said that the forced family separations were a low point for many, Trump said, “That was a low point for me, as well.”
“I feel very strongly about that,” she said. “I am very vehemently against family separation and the separation of parents and children.”
She went on to say that “immigration is incredibly complex as a topic.”
“I am a daughter of an immigrant. My mother grew up in Communist Czech Republic, but we are a country of laws,” Trump said. “These are not easy issues. These are incredibly difficult issues. I experience them in a very emotional way.”
The aftermath of the exchange highlighted the difficulty for the first daughter of building a reputation apart from that of the administration in which she works.
Adversaries of the president quickly criticized her for not speaking up more forcefully and more frequently if she was so appalled by what the administration was doing to families at the border and his attacks on the media.
“It’s easy and convenient to denounce an abhorrent policy after it’s ended,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said in a tweet. “Doing the right thing is speaking out when it matters. Where were you to stand up to @realDonaldTrump months ago, @IvankaTrump?”
Some critics charged that her comments were nothing more than a PR move.
“Before today, she had weeks and weeks to make these points. It looked calculated to me,” said Democratic consultant Mary Anne Marsh. “She’s either ineffective or disingenuous or both. If she’s trying to make herself look good, she didn’t succeed.”
Others were quick to point out that presidential aides do not typically speak out publicly when they disagree with their boss.
“In any administration, a staffer cannot publicly disagree with the president, so the constant calls for this or that staffer to speak out against the president isn’t based in reality,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee.
Heye acknowledged that Ivanka Trump “isn’t just any staffer,” but he said it’s hard to imagine how her speaking out more regularly would lead to different postures from her father.
“That’s up to the president. He’s the decider,” Heye said.
The event Thursday also served as a study in contrasts between Ivanka — who has been trying to thread the needle between her White House role and her personal brand — and her brothers — who have been vocal boosters of their father’s nationalist, America First agenda while also lashing out at his critics and perceived enemies.
On Thursday morning, Ivanka Trump stressed her eagerness to work with Democrats and Republicans interested in the issue of paid family leave.
“I view this as something that’s going to require bipartisan compromise in order to get done,” she said.
On Wednesday night, Donald Trump Jr. co-hosted the premiere of a movie by conservative firebrand Dinesh D’Souza and took a more combative approach toward Democrats.
“You see the Nazi platform in the early 1930s and what was actually put out there and you look at it, compared to the DNC platform of today, you’re saying, ‘Man, those things are awfully similar’ to a point where it’s actually scary,” he said in an interview with One America News, a conservative outlet. “And to me, that was one of the most striking things I took from the movie because it’s the exact opposite of what you’ve been told.”