Imagine my surprise, waking up with Thanksgiving leftovers still cluttering the refrigerator to find CNN going on and on about a brewing battle between Rex Tillerson’s State Department and presidential adviser (and daughter) Ivanka Trump. So much for taking a short break from the more annoying side of politics, I suppose.
But it is what it is. This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit (a creation of the Obama administration, not to be confused with some ancient, solemn tradition) is taking place in India shortly and the guest of honor from the American contingent will be the aforementioned Ivanka. She’ll be going without the Secretary of State, however. Also missing will be anyone from the State Department ranking much higher than the kid who gets sent out for donuts before the weekly staff meetings. And this has much of the political media circus licking their collective chops. (CNN)
Days ahead of what should be a major moment for Ivanka Trump on the world stage, CNN has learned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson isn’t sending a high-level delegation to support her amid reports of tensions between Tillerson and the White House.
Multiple State Department officials, as well as a source close to the White House, have told CNN Tillerson’s decision not to send senior State Department officials to this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit, being held in India next week, is not related to his key project of slashing the Department’s budget, and is more to do with the fact Ivanka Trump is leading the US delegation this year. Trump was invited by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June, and this year’s theme is supporting women entrepreneurs.
The State Department puts on the large yearly event, which Secretary of State John Kerry and even President Obama attended multiple times. But this year, according to one senior State Department official: “No one higher than the deputy assistant secretary is allowed to participate. The secretary and his top staff have insisted on approving all travel– even the most minute details.”
As usual, and as tiresome as it’s become, we should point out that this story is primarily sourced from one anonymous “source close to the White House” and some equally cloaked “State Department officials,” none of whom apparently wish to attach their names to the story, so take that as you will.
Let’s assume for the moment that most of the suggestions are true. What first appears as a significant snub by Tillerson is probably not only understandable but unlikely to affect the outcome of the event. From the White House side, empowering women in business has been one of Ivanka’s key themes when she’s piped up on policy debates. It was the premise (and essentially the title) of her book released earlier this year, Women Who Work.
And it’s not as if she horned in on this party as some sort of plot to undermine the State Department. She was personally invited by the Prime Minister of India back in June. It was an offer she was obviously going to find hard to decline and it’s a great way for Narendra Modi to curry some favor with the President, feting his daughter in this fashion.
And what of Tillerson? If his team is feeling a bit miffed at not being initially courted for top billing by the hosts of the event, are you surprised? This summit was created by the State Department. It’s sort of his show. But it’s also not as if he’s canceling it. The State Department is sending people, just not the heavy hitters. Sounds to me like a case of Tillerson’s team saying, if Ivanka wants to take this on, let her have it. We’ve got plenty to keep us busy. Further, as Susan Wright of RedState described it, why would the Secretary of State want to show up at such a media circus event looking like Ivanka’s supporting staff? The guy is one of the most senior members of the United States cabinet. He’s fourth in the line of presidential succession. Ivanka Trump is technically nothing more than an adviser with no official duties.
So does this damage the relationship between Trump and Tillerson even further? There definitely appeared to be some friction between the two men earlier this year, but they dismissed the idea in public and got on with their respective jobs. I’m guessing that Tillerson has spent enough time working with Trump by now that he would have sent some feelers to find out how the President was going to react to this. If it was going to cause Trump to blow a gasket they could have worked out a compromise in private, so I’m guessing Trump knew this was coming and took a pass on it.
So the bottom line is that this was a story custom made for the media to build on the Chaos and Internal Division in the White House (!) theme. It’s a proven winner with the liberal base and gives everyone something to talk about during a holiday weekend. Beyond that? I’m betting there’s far more smoke than fire here. Of course, the President hasn’t tweeted about it yet as of when I was writing this and he’s usually tweeting by now, but it could still change later.