During her father’s presidential transition, Ivanka Trump hauled Al Gore into Trump Tower to discuss climate change with Donald Trump. She sat down with actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio, who gave her a copy of his climate-change documentary, “Before the Flood.”
She told friends and associates that she was picking and choosing the issues where, as a one-time Democrat, she might be able to influence her father. Climate change was on the list.
On Thursday, in a peppy Rose Garden ceremony that included a brass band, Trump announced he was withdrawing from the Paris climate accords — a fulfillment of a campaign promise, but also a major blow to global efforts to combat climate change.
After she organized five weeks of meetings focused on the Paris agreement — including her own sit-down with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and enlisting people like Apple CEO Tim Cook to speak to the president about climate — Ivanka Trump appeared to have lost on one of the issues where she at one point expected to hold some sway.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh — not Paris!” a defiant Trump proclaimed, pitching his decision as a move that “represents a re-assertion of American sovereignty.”
Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, have taken the defeat in stride, according to two people familiar with their thinking on the issue. Their view of their roles in the White House is that they’re playing the long game, helping the president to be successful. And they don’t tally their own influence day-by-day or bill-by-bill.
But they were notably absent from the row of top aides gathered in front of the podium for the announcement. There, Trump’s top political strategist Steve Bannon, who has clashed with Kushner in the past and had been pressing Trump to withdraw from the climate change agreement, smiled happily under the beating sun.
Ivanka Trump was out of the office observing the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, a White House official said. Kushner walked to the White House after attending synagogue in the morning for a long-standing meeting that was on his schedule before Trump’s remarks were put together, and he also did not attend the Rose Garden event. But the White House official said Kushner was “fully involved with the process of the announcement.”
For the first five months of the Trump administration, Ivanka Trump has pitched herself as a humble newcomer, smart enough to know what she doesn’t know and to start her tour in government in listening mode. Last month, when she was invited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to sit on a women’s panel in Berlin, Ivanka Trump explained of her role in the White House, “I’m listening, I’m still learning.”
She told the New York Times that same month, “I’m still at the early stages of learning how everything works. But I know enough now to be a much more proactive voice inside the White House.”
But progressives who hoped that Ivanka Trump and Kushner’s presence in Trump’s inner circle would moderate the president’s most extreme stances said they saw Thursday’s exit from the climate accord as another demoralizing moment.
"With Ivanka, we thought at least we’ll always have Paris. But that turned out to be fiction, too,” Democratic strategist Rebecca Katz said.
Skepticism about how much influence Ivanka Trump and Kushner wield in the White House — at least as moderating forces — has been mounting among Democrats. But the failure to move the needle on a major environmental issue was, for many, close to the last straw.
“The other thing she said she cares about are women’s issues,” said Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen. “If Planned Parenthood’s funding ends and millions of middle- and lower-income women are left without healthcare options, then her impact will be seen as very limited.” (Rosen, a partner at the consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker, counts Planned Parenthood as a client.)
People close to the First Daughter and her husband have said that while the pair wanted the president to stick by the Paris deal and tried to bring voices on all sides of the issue to the table, climate change was never their focus. Ivanka Trump has spent most of her time focused on women’s issues and has been credited internally with including paid family leave in a Republican budget for the first time.
Kushner, meanwhile, has been more focused on resetting relations in the Middle East and trying to foster innovation in the federal government than he has been on climate change.
Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg said the biggest political loser was not the First Daughter or her husband but chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, who advocated staying in the accord but did attend the Rose Garden event Thursday. Trump’s decision was seen by many as the latest sign that, despite having Democratic and Republican voices inside his West Wing, he ultimately governs like a conservative.
Trump’s attempted travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries has been held up by the courts, not by moderate voices in the White House. And Ivanka Trump and Kushner were on hand to celebrate the president in the Rose Garden when the House passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last month.
Still, Kushner and the more moderate officials in the West Wing were credited with influencing the president’s inclusive tone on Islam in his policy address in Riyadh last week.
People close to the First Daughter and her husband often express frustration when Trump’s decisions are interpreted as wins or losses for his family members-turned-aides. Nobody elected Ivanka Trump, she has argued, and the expectation that she and her husband would single-handedly change her father’s position away from longstanding Republican orthodoxy is seen internally as unrealistic and unfair.
Their defenders say the pair is more concerned with their success on targeted projects, like Kushner’s efforts to engage private-sector CEOs with government and to improve relations with countries like Canada, China and Mexico. Ivanka Trump, for her part, has been raising awareness around women’s economic empowerment and working with minority small business owners.
Ivanka Trump has said she would not always publicly air her differences with her father or publicize her efforts to change his mind. But on climate change, she tried to pull back the curtain on her behind-the-scenes advocacy and take credit for at least trying to sway him.
Ivanka Trump made no public statement on social media about the president’s decision Thursday. If she was upset with where her father ultimately landed, it would be out of character and unprecedented for her to let it show.
“Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda and– and hope — that I can be an asset to him and– and make a positive impact,” she told Gayle King in a rare interview in April. “But I respect the fact that he always listens. It’s how he was in business. It’s how he is as president.”