Ivanka Trump stayed silent for days as border crisis mounted

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Ivanka Trump and President Donald Trump (White House photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ivanka Trump, the presidential adviser who has billed herself as a "force for good" in the administration, remained silent for days as the firestorm over forced separations of migrant families consumed the White House.

In a closed-door meeting with Republicans late Tuesday, President Donald Trump confided that his daughter urged him to find a solution. But despite days of heart-wrenching images of children being pulled from their immigrant parents, she stayed publicly quiet until Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order designed to keep families together.

Then the first daughter tweeted, "Thank you @POTUS for taking critical action ending family separation at our border," and called on Congress to "find a lasting solution that is consistent with our shared values."

Still, Ivanka Trump's conspicuous silence drew criticism as outrage mounted over the separations. And it wasn't the first time that Ivanka Trump, as well as her husband and fellow influential presidential adviser, Jared Kushner, had tried to fly under the radar during crisis and tumult in her father's administration.

Kushner has been in the Middle East working on the administration's peace plan while cable news filled with emotional photos of children in cages and audio of kids crying for their parents at the Mexican border. And Ivanka Trump was in California this week, getting heckled on her way to a fundraiser for Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

After Trump's Capitol Hill meeting, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said the president "mentioned that his daughter Ivanka encouraged him to end this. And he said that he does recognize that it needs to end, that the images are painful."

As he signed the executive order Wednesday, Trump stressed that he had heard from his daughter, saying, "Ivanka feels very strongly" and "I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don't like to see families separated."

White House spokesman Raj Shah said Ivanka Trump had made calls to congressional leaders, advocating for a fix. She was at a meeting Wednesday between Trump and lawmakers at the White House.

Her prolonged silence was the latest example of the challenges and calculations faced by the first daughter as she seeks to promote a family-friendly agenda in an administration focused on hard-line immigration tactics and protectionist trade policies —under a president whose comments on race, gender and inclusivity have drawn bipartisan rebukes.

First lady Melania Trump weighed in more quickly, with her office issuing a statement over the weekend saying she "hates" to see families separated at the border. On Wednesday, a White House official said she "has been making her opinion known" to her husband that he needs to do all he can to keep migrant families together.

The mounting criticism mirrors the harsh spotlight on Ivanka Trump last summer for her silence after the deadly clash involving counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. At the time, the president pointedly refused to single out neo-Nazis and white supremacists, suggesting there was blame to be shared "on both sides."

She also stayed quiet when her father unleashed a brutal attack on MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, questioning her intelligence and saying she was "bleeding badly from a face-lift" in a December encounter. At the time, Brzezinski and her co-host, Joe Scarborough, called on Ivanka Trump to condemn the remarks.

Ivanka Trump was targeted recently by late-night comedian Samantha Bee over immigration policy, though Bee apologized for using a crude epithet to describe her.

Last year, Ivanka Trump did offer strong words against Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, who was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls during the late 1970s, when he was in his 30s. She told The Associated Press at the time: "There's a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I've yet to see a valid explanation and I have no reason to doubt the victims' accounts."

After her father took office, Ivanka Trump said she aimed to "be a force for good and to make a positive impact" in her White House role. Throughout her time in the administration, she has sought to position herself above the fray, arguing in interviews that her focus is on policy and that she is more effective working behind the scenes if she disagrees with her father.

While liberal critics have expressed frustration that she has not done more to temper her father's conservative agenda, Ivanka Trump has made clear that she sees limitations to her role.

"I came here with specific areas I could add value," she said last year in an AP interview. "In the areas I don't agree, I state my opinion."

She and her husband also got criticized by some in the West Wing for being absent during difficult moments; they were off on a ski vacation when the GOP's health care plan collapsed last year.

The crisis at the border has upended the White House, even as the president has told confidants he thinks being tough on immigration will be a winning issue for Republicans in this fall's midterm elections.

Lemire reported from New York.