Trump and President Moon Jae-in had taken their places in the center, followed by Moon’s wife, Kim Jung-sook. The next US official in line was not a member of Trump’s Cabinet or national security team, but his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump.
As the cameras flashed and Pompeo awkwardly shuffled around, it took the first daughter a moment to realize he was trying to slide in. She eventually moved aside to let the secretary of state take his place between her and the South Korean first lady.
The moment encapsulated the unusually prominent role Ivanka Trump has played during Trump’s trip to Asia: a first daughter assuming the spotlight and duty beyond that of a senior aide on the world stage, the latest in her ongoing efforts to style herself as a diplomat.
Back in Washington, national security officials bristled at the large presence Ivanka assumed while overseas. But those close to the President described it as business as usual.
In the spotlight
Never before has a President’s child had the proximity, influence and the marketing savvy to create a space in an administration, and that was on display from the G20 to the demilitarized zone as she appeared on equal footing with Cabinet-level officials. One sign of that: Her efforts to build relationships with world leaders at gatherings such as these.
Over the course of the four-day trip, Ivanka Trump attended multiple bilateral meetings at the G20 in Osaka. She was on stage for a women’s economic empowerment forum with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, delivering remarks on her Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative.
The French government released a video of her trying to make conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, IMF chairwoman Christine Lagarde and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Trump’s national security adviser was absent from the stop because an aide said he had already departed Korea for a scheduled visit to Mongolia to “discuss regional security, infrastructure and economic issues.” And Pompeo remained largely in the background during the high-profile trip, only appearing on camera behind the President as he made closing remarks. But while her father met with Kim inside for approximately 50 minutes, Trump crossed the line into North Korea — inside a blue shelter and away from the cameras — while senior officials like acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney waited outside. Asked by a reporter in the traveling press pool how North Korea was, she replied, “Surreal.”
Former Obama State Department spokesperson, Pentagon press secretary and CNN analyst John Kirby said that her outsize role during the trip raises “legitimate concerns” regarding the transparency of Trump’s responsibilities as a White House official, and, subsequently, her lack of accountability mechanisms as an unelected staffer.
“It raises real questions about what policy issues does she have a stake in and does she have authority to speak for the United States on,” Kirby said to CNN.
To him, her visibility is an “optics problem” for the administration.
“I found it fairly stunning that she had a seat at so many tables and was involved in so many bilateral policy discussions,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t help America’s standing on the world’s stage as a democratic representative government because she wasn’t elected by anybody and hasn’t been formally appointed to any position.”
A White House official did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
The Ivanka Influence
In turn, Trump and Kushner have viewed Mulvaney as an ally in the administration, even if the chief of staff’s own influence with the President is somewhat limited. While Mulvaney is trusted by key members of Trump’s inner circle, the two men have little chemistry and interact less frequently than during other chiefs of staff’s tenures.
Her camera-facing role this week comes amid speculation about her political future.
But the President told the magazine that his daughter hasn’t expressed any interest in running to him.
At the conclusion of the trip’s events on Sunday, the President called his daughter and Pompeo to the stage as he addressed troops at Osan Air Base.
“Has anyone heard of Ivanka? Come up, Ivanka. She’s going to steal the show,” he said, calling the Pompeo-Ivanka duo “Beauty and the Beast.”