GREENVILLE, S.C. – Ivanka Trump showed up in Washington last year with a to-do list of policies straight from the Democratic Party playbook. The president’s daughter — a former Democratic donor — wanted the administration to tackle paid family leave, equal pay for women and affordable child care.
She thought Democrats would join her in trying to move the agenda forward — after all, these were issues they had championed for years.
But some Democrats said her plans did not go far enough, and although they still discuss the issues with her, they have largely avoided teaming up with her. So the former business woman turned to conservatives to try to make a deal.
“I’m no longer surprised,” Trump said about the partisan lines in Washington. “I think that there are always people that will not move off of their talking points, and then there are a lot of people who will. You have to find the people who will, that’s how you build coalitions.”
USA TODAY took an exclusive day trip with Trump to deep-red South Carolina late last month for a tax event with Republican women hosted by GOP Sen. Tim Scott. The pair worked closely on the tax bill, including pushing for a doubled child tax credit, that passed late last year.
On a morning flight from Washington to Greenville, Trump talked about her approach to policy efforts, noting that her first meetings on a topic are always with the people she expects to be “most resistant because I want to understand what their arguments are.”
“There are a myriad of solid arguments for child tax credits. There are some that liberals will respond more strongly to. There are some that conservatives will respond more strongly to,” she said. “You have to know your audience and adjust your arguments.”
When asked why she thought she wasn’t getting more collaboration from Democrats, she said, “It’s always easier to be for something and not get it done than to accommodate another perspective and get it done.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a conservative who leads the House Freedom Caucus, said he’s had multiple meetings with Trump about topics “that conservatives would normally not be in favor of … she makes very compelling cases.”
Meadows, who is close to President Trump, spoke to USA TODAY two days after the president called broadly for a paid family leave program in his State of the Union Address.
“I would say in the past, I wouldn’t have given it any chance (of passing), but Ivanka’s advocacy for that particular issue at least makes it a question that has to be answered,” Meadows said.
Others attest to the first daughter’s influence.
“There is no substitute for the bully pulpit of the president” advocating for an issue, and Ivanka Trump is “obviously a critical adviser” to her father and his agenda, said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Trump’s 2018 budget called for six weeks of parental leave (including mothers, fathers and adoptive parents) as part of the unemployment insurance program. States would be in charge of adjusting their tax structure to accommodate the program.
That could result in tax increases, something Republicans have been resistant to do.
Although Republicans are open to discussing policies such as paid family leave, particularly if the president pushes for it, they worry about the details.
Penny Nance, CEO and president of the conservative advocacy organization Concerned Women for America, said she met with Ivanka Trump, who tried to get her to support paid leave because she said it was a “pro-life” idea.
“We agree with that,” Nance said. “The question is how do we do that? How do we do that so it doesn’t make it more difficult for women to be hired and to be promoted?”
Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif., has a bill that would provide incentives to businesses to give paid leave and flexible work arrangements by eliminating mandates at the state and local level if they participated in the program. She wants Ivanka Trump to support such a bill instead of one that forces companies to provide leave.
“As Republicans … we don’t believe in mandates because when you put a mandate on a business, it makes it that much more difficult for a company to survive and to thrive,” she said.
Rubio floated an idea that would allow people to draw on their Social Security benefits early in case of emergency and delay retirement based on how many weeks they took off. Democrats said such an idea was a non-starter.
Rubio said he believes some of the pushback comes from “the political side of the Democratic Party that doesn’t want the president to be successful because they want to defeat him in 2020 and they want to take control of the House and Senate in 2018.”
“Seeing a Republican president and a Republican Congress pass something that solves an issue that they have long talked about is probably something that their political wing is not excited about,” he said before adding that the reverse “would probably be true” for Republicans if Democrats controlled the White House and Congress.
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