David Smith in Washington-Saturday 8 July 2017
“I try to stay out of politics,” Ivanka Trump said in a recent interview. But the US president’s daughter spent part of her weekend sitting around a table with the Chinese, Russian and Turkish presidents, the German chancellor and the British prime minister.
The former businesswoman and fashion model briefly took her father’s seat during a G20 session in Hamburg, prompting claims of nepotism and a heavy dose of sarcasm about her diplomatic credentials.
Ms Trump, 35, sat around the table with Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Angela Merkel and Theresa May. One official who was watching the session told the Bloomberg news agency she had taken her father’s place on at least two occasions on Saturday but had not spoken.
A spokesman for the first daughter told Bloomberg that she had been sitting in the back of the room and then briefly joined the main table when the president stepped out. Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, addressed the meeting, which dealt with African migration and health – issues relevant to a fund that Ms Trump and the World Bank had just announced.
Ms Trump serves as an unpaid adviser to her father in the White House, taking on issues such as paid family leave and women’s economic empowerment, but condemnation of her starring role on the world stage was swift. Maxine Waters, a Democratic congresswoman from California, told the the US news channel MSNBC: “It does not make good sense. Here you have the president of the United States at the G20, representing us as the leader of the free world, and so he’s going to play politics and give his daughter a chance to have a place in the sun and to be seen at a very important meeting that she knows nothing about.
“She cannot in any way deal with those members who are there representing those countries. She doesn’t know anything about these issues.”
Zerlina Maxwell, former director of progressive media for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, told MSNBC: “It’s completely inappropriate. What qualifications and experience does Ivanka Trump have in her background that should put her at the table with world leaders like Theresa May and Vladimir Putin? Literally a foot over from Vladimir Putin. This just goes to, I think, the level of inherent corruption in this administration.”
The historian Anne Applebaum was quoted by Agence France-Presse as criticising what she called “an unelected, unqualified, unprepared New York socialite” being seen as “the best person to represent American national interests”.
G20 leaders are entitled to bring staff into the room for some meetings and, when other presidents and prime ministers ducked out during Saturday’s session, their seats were briefly filled by others. But seldom are they replaced by members of their families.
Later Merkel, the host leader of the G20 and hardly a close ally of Trump, played down the controversy. “The delegations themselves decide, should the president not be present for a meeting, who will then take over and sit in the chair,” she told a press conference. “Ivanka Trump was part and parcel of the American delegation so that is something that other delegations also do. It’s very well known that she works at the White House and is also engaged in certain initiatives.”
A photo of Ms Trump at the table was posted on Twitter by Svetlana Lukash, the Russian G20 sherpa, but she later deleted it. The political commentator Ana Navarro tweeted in response: “Telling that pic of Ivanka at G-20 table was posted by Russian staff. Russians knew would: 1. be deemed controversial; 2. get us going in US.”
Amy Siskind, president and co-founder of The New Agenda, a women’s rights organisation, tweeted: “This kind of thing happens all the time. In dictatorships.”
Ms Trump has been prominent at the G20. On Thursday night, she and her husband, Jared Kushner, another White House adviser, joined her father at a bilateral meeting with Merkel.
Earlier on Saturday, she took part in a World Bank event on a fund for female entrepreneurs that she has helped put together. The US president said: “I’m very proud of my daughter Ivanka, always have been from day one. I have to tell you that, from day one. If she weren’t my daughter, it’d be so much easier for her. It might be the only bad thing she has going, if you want to know the truth.”