Forbes’ 100 World’s Most Powerful Women 2017 ranking features only one Trump—and it’s not the First Lady. Since its inception in 2004, this is the first time our annual directory of the women who matter most on the global stage does not include the wife of the U.S. president. It is also the only time a First Daughter has found herself in the ranking: Ivanka Trump lands as the No. 19 Most Powerful Woman. As Ivanka—a senior advisor to President Donald Trump —has risen as a weighty voice in the White House, Melania Trump appears to have assumed a far quieter role.
Officially advising her father since March, Ivanka has been both praised and criticized for her influence in the Trump Administration. The First Daughter (and wife of Jared Kushner, also a senior advisor to the president) is known to have more liberal views than 45. While it’s widely contested how much she has been able to tip her father’s policies to the left, she is one of the few women who are close to the highest office in the country.
“I am a real estate developer and an entrepreneur. More important, I’m a wife and a mother,” Ivanka wrote in her 2017 self-help book called Women Who Work. “I design and build iconic properties all over the world; I have also created and am growing a business that seeks to inspire and empower women in all aspects of their lives. I’m busy teaching my children the value of hard work and the importance of family.”
As the founder of her eponymous retail brand, Ivanka Trump has been a self-proclaimed women’s rights advocate long before her role at the White House. She launched the initiative Women Who Work in 2014 (a precursor to her 2017 book), highlighting the lives of working American women and mothers. By the time she joined the family quest to the ultimate frontier; the White House, she had already taken the reins of the family business as the executive VP at the Trump Organization, and the cofounder of Trump Hotels and their more affordable hotel line, Scion. In June 2015, however, she took on a different role and introduced her father when he declared his candidacy in New York City. A little over a year later, she set the stage for him at the Republican National Convention.
“My father values talent. He recognizes real knowledge and skill when he finds it. He is color blind and gender neutral,” the soon-to-be first daughter said as she addressed 50,000 people in Cleveland, “he will fight for equal pay for equal work, and I will fight for this too, right alongside of him.” Since her father announced he would pursue a ticket to the White House, Ivanka has claimed women’s rights would be central to the Trump presidency—even after the Washington Post released an Access Hollywood tape from 2005 which revealed Trump’s lewd remarks about women.
Whether the extent of Ivanka’s influence has been what many have anticipated remains unclear, however. Ivanka, who identifies herself as a political independent, joined congressional Republicans like Marco Rubio in October to call for an increase in the child tax credit, one of her projects under her father’s presidency. She also spearheaded a memorandum in September that set aside at least $200 million to prioritize teaching coding in U.S. schools, especially for girls and minorities.
Yet, the senior advisor has also been widely scrutinized, especially by those who thought she would challenge some of her father’s social views. In July—a month after Ivanka declared her support for the LGBTQ community—many took to Twitter to criticize her lack of apparent response to Trump’s proposed ban on transgender individuals serving in the army. “I am proud to support my LGBTQ friends and the LGBTQ Americans who have made immense contributions to our society and economy,” she had tweeted during the NYC Pride Week.
In the first months of his presidency, Trump also took a lot of heat for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, for extending the “global gag rule,” and for not immediately denouncing neo-Nazis and the KKK after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, causing Ivanka to be depicted as “complicit,” especially by those who disapprove of the current trajectory of the Trump presidency.
“If being complicit is wanting to, is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact then I’m complicit,” the advisor told CBS This Morning in April. “I don’t know that the critics who may say that of me, if they found themselves in this very unique and unprecedented situation that I am now in, would do any differently than I am doing.”
“The musical Hamilton showed us that it matters to be in the ‘room where it happens.’ Ivanka wants everyone to know she was in the room, but was not responsible for whatever happens,” said Andrea Purse, former White House communications staffer during the Obama Administration. “On issue after issue—on climate, LGBT issues, ‘women’s’ issues that she claims to care about, she has failed to deliver when it mattered most.”
In August, Ivanka was under heavy fire again due to her support for the halt of a planned Obama-era rule that would have required businesses to begin collecting data to combat pay discrimination, a cause she has championed. “Whether my contribution ultimately lives up to the expectations of some of the harshest critics? Only time will tell,” she told the Financial Times in September.
Unlike Ivanka, Melania Trump fails to join the Most Powerful Women list as D.C. insiders claim that she hasn’t completely stepped up to the challenge yet. The First Lady trails powerful women who have trodden the White House like Laura Bush (who came on the list in 2004) and Michelle Obama (who came on in 2009). The expectations are high for the second immigrant First Lady of the U.S. (Louisa Adams, first lady in 1825, was the first) especially with President Trump’s stance on immigration, according to Kelly Gibson, a political consultant at the media firm in D.C.. “I think the role that [she] plays on the administrations’ opinions about immigration and access to what makes people successful in this country could make for very interesting conversation,” Gibson said.
While the skepticism persists, insiders – especially Democrats – expect First Lady Melania Trump, who according to the latest CNN poll from September is the most favorable Trump, to become a more significant voice. “On the campaign trail, she said that her main focus if she were first lady would be to take on bullying. Now that she’s FLOTUS, we haven’t seen her do much on bullying,” political analyst Cartney McCracken said. “But finally, this past Thursday we saw Melania step up in tackling one of the biggest threats to Americans— fighting the opioid epidemic.”
At the White House event in October where President Trump declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency, Melania made the first remarks, a rare occasion thus far. “And I have recently taken a larger interest in what I can do to help fight this epidemic,” she told the crowd, evoking an applause. “I have been participating in meetings and listening sessions, and I have been visiting with people who have been affected by this disease.”
As Melania Trump becomes a voice in addressing the drug addiction epidemic, her critics want to see her do more. “This first lady has not used her position to effect the public good yet,” Kelly Gibson said. “I think the office, FLOTUS, deserves to be on the most powerful list. I don’t think [Melania Trump] has stepped up and fully realized the potential for the good she can do, but am hopeful she will.” – Written by ,