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Known as Steering Wheel of Trump Govt, Can 'Power Couple' Ivanka & Jared Kushner Influence US-India Deals?

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend a joint press conference between US President Donald Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on July 25, 2017. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend a joint press conference between US President Donald Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on July 25, 2017. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Media and foreign policy experts have often levelled charges of nepotism against Trump as he continues to tag his 38-year-old daughter along on foreign tours that are of diplomatic importance for the United States.

It isn't often that United States President Donald Trump makes foreign visits a family affair. However, his upcoming trip to India seems to be an exception. Reports claim that along with First Lady Melania Trump and a high-level delegation, also accompanying the US President on this trip are his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his daughter, Ivanka.

Ivanka's plan of joining the POTUS was, in fact, a last-minute announcement made on Friday and attributed to sources. Chances are she isn't making the trip to India for sightseeing, or a family photo in front of the Taj Mahal, but because she wants to serve in her capacity as a political adviser to Trump as he hammers out "significant deals" with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Despite the fact that Ivanka doesn't have much experience handling foreign policy matters, like her husband Jared, she is no stranger to Modi's foreign trade and developmental policies.

In fact, during her last visit to India, at the Global Entrepreneur Summit 2017, Ivanka not only praised Modi's transformational journey from his humble beginnings as a tea-seller to the prime ministership of India but also admired his leadership, which she said has "built India into a thriving economy, a beacon of democracy and a symbol of hope to the world". Last year, Ivanka also posted a video update of Trump's meeting with Modi, and with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the G20 Summit during which leaders discussed 5G technology and its security implications.

Media and foreign policy experts have often levelled charges of nepotism against Trump as he continues to tag his 38-year-old daughter along on foreign tours that are of diplomatic importance for the US — like his North Korea visit, or the G20 summit in 2019, where a viral video showed Ivanka trying to interject in a conversation between French President Emmanuel Macron, ex-British Prime Minister Theresa May, and ex-IMF director Christine Lagarde. However, so far Trump hasn't paid any attention to the criticism.

Since an early age, Ivanka has been part of the Trump brand and during the initial days of his presidency, Trump made it amply clear she and her husband will also be an integral part of his administration. While many were quick to speculate they would be the voice of reason and influence Trump's decisions on key matters, in the last four years there has been little proof of that. Nonetheless, Ivanka and Jared Kushner have evolved as the couple who hold the steering wheel of the Trump administration, despite their lack of experience of handling any political affair.

Keeping up with the Kushners

Ivanka may have grown up in a pre-paparazzi era, but she was always in the limelight. During her boarding school days, she dabbled in modelling — making runaway appearance for Versace, being on print adverts for Tommy Hilfiger, and on the cover of magazines such as Seventeen. She also made television appearances on her father's popular show, The Apprentice, co-hosted Miss US Teen, and owned a clothing brand of her own.

After graduating from Wharton Business School, Ivanka had a brief stint as a real estate manager before joining the family-run Trump Enterprises as Executive Vice-President of Development & Acquisitions. Ivanka has since been the spokesperson of sort for Trump's businesses and has championed and defended her father during all his personal and political storms. Trump, too, has often publicly stated his love for his favourite daughter. Sometimes, in not-so-proper ways.

In 2009, Ivanka, who is the second child of the US President and his first wife, Ivana, tied the knot with Jared Kushner, a son of a real estate company founder, in a lavish wedding ceremony attended by 500 guests in New Jersey.

Kushner, a Harvard graduate (where he reportedly got through because of a hefty donation), who has two degrees — in law and MBA — from the New York University, was in an on-again, off-again relationship with Ivanka after a mutual friend introduced them in 2005. At the time of their wedding, Kushner was also the publisher of The New York Observer and a principal at the Kushner Companies in New York.

Although on paper Kushner seemed like a perfect groom for the real estate heiress, his family's reputation had taken a hit a few years before his wedding. In 2004, his father, Charles Kushner, was sentenced to jail for tax evasion, witness retaliation, and false statement to the Election Commission, after he hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law because he suspected that the latter was helping a federal inquiry against him. Despite that, the initial objection to Jared and Ivanka's relationship came from the Kushners themselves because of Ivanka's religious background. Ivanka, therefore, converted to Judaism before marrying Kushner.

After marriage, the couple had three kids — Arabella Rose, Joseph Frederick, and the youngest, Theodore, who was born the same year Trump won the US presidential election, aided largely by Jared, and supported openly by his daughter, Ivanka.

The DC Power Couple

One of the enigmas during Trump's 2016 election campaign and four-year-long presidency are the roles Ivanka and Jared play in his administration. According to an article in Forbes titled 'How Jared Kushner won Trump The White House' published two weeks after Trump's election, it was Jared, a real estate company executive with no political know-how, who ran a secret data operation that targeted social media campaigns — 'message tailoring, sentiment manipulation, and machine learning' — to help Trump win the election. Ivanka, on the other hand, was grace personified as she stood in support of her father during rallies, while allegations of Trump's sexual misconduct were rife.

However, the true litmus test for the couple began once they shifted to Washington DC as Jared geared up to take up his official role as Trump's political adviser, and Ivanka's involvement in matters of White House became apparent. Ethics experts were quick to point out the obvious conflict of interest that might result from Jared's appointment in the White House.

Jared's appointment, and later Ivanka joining Trump's administration, also as a senior adviser, not only flouted anti-nepotism rules but also required them to completely dealign themselves from their respective real estate empires. To that effect, the couple decided to forgo their salaries as long as they served in the administration in order to abide by the anti-nepotism rules. They also made efforts to disassociate themselves from their real estate companies. However, in the last four years, there have been several occasions in which both Jared and Ivanka have been accused of pushing their personal agendas instead of the government's interest.

Post his appointment as a senior adviser, Jared was tasked with an unbelievably long list of high-profile jobs. It was his job to handle the Middle East and broker peace, and reform the criminal justice system. He was also in charge of building the infamous border wall with Mexico, and of maintaining diplomatic relationships with China and Mexico. It is also under Kushner's job description to lead the Office of American Innovation, which is supposed to make "recommendations to the President on policies and plans that improve government operations and services, improve the quality of life for Americans now and in the future, and spur job creation".

On the other hand, Ivanka's role, as listed on the White House website, is to "focus on the education and economic empowerment of women and their families as well as job creation and economic growth through workforce development, skills training and entrepreneurship".

The Rock During Trump's Rocky Tenure

With a long laundry list of tasks in hand and no political experience, Kushner stumbled headlong quite a few times in the past years. While the FBI investigated Russian collusion in Trump election, Kushner's meeting with Sergei Gorkov, the head of Russian state investment bank Vnesheconombank, grabbed international headlines as investigative officials reported he may have been trying to establish a secret communication between White House's transition team and Moscow. As the reports did rounds, Jared pushed out James Comey, who was then the head of FBI, which eventually resulted in Robert Mueller taking over the investigation as Special Counsel for Department of Justice, who did irreparable damage to Trump's reputation.

It also did not help that foreign secret services identified Jared as a target of manipulation. However, his Achilles heel is and continues to be the fact that despite his divestment from his real estate business, he has reportedly put personal gains above national interest several times. In an article written in The Guardian, sources claimed that $90 million were funnelled to a company co-founded by Kushner, in the form of foreign investment, since he took office in the White House.

However, despite Kushner's obvious failures and repeated allegations of ethics violations, he did manage to find rare victories during Trump's tenure as well. He was instrumental in the passing of the criminal justice bill. He also pushed the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which many have considered to be one of the historic achievements of Trump's administration. Apart from that, he has changed the entire political landscape of the Middle East with his personal ties with the Saudi prince, and Trump openly stating loyalty to Saudi Arabia, after the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was allegedly involved.

Kushner is currently gearing for Trump's re-election campaign for 2020, while Ivanka has revealed she may not be back in the White House if her father wins this time. In 2019, at a speech to the Economic Club of New York, Trump had boasted that Ivanka had created 14 million new jobs. However, this iteration was far from the truth, as media reports quickly pointed out. Nonetheless, Ivanka was a part of the Pledge to America's Workers programme, which has been designed to create job opportunities.

For Women's Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, Ivanka also travelled extensively during 2019. She visited Ethiopia, Colombia, Paraguay, Ivory Coast, Morocco and a few other places to promote the initiative. Apart from that, she also talked about this initiative at the Concordia Annual Summit, which happened along with the 74th United Nations General Assembly.

When this power couple had initially come to power post-Trump's controversial election, Republicans were sceptical because they were both previously Democrat donors and the media projected them to be more liberal in their mindset. However, as this tenure of Trump draws to the close, it is clear that despite being Trump's advisers, they had made it their prerogative is to do his bidding. In the process, whether or not they have gained any political insight or developed an understanding of government or foreign policy is hard to say, but Jared has so far shown an excellent aptitude for sword-fighting with anyone who stops the President from doing what he wants, and Ivanka still continues to be the best asset for the Trump brand.