Ivanka Trump marked her first foray into White House policy at a roundtable for female business leaders on Monday, as yet more retailers rushed to drop her clothing and accessories lines from their stores.
Sitting alongside Donald Trump and the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, Ivanka made only brief public remarks at the top of the meeting, pointing to the “unique challenges” faced by women in the workforce.
“I’m honored to be here and really looking forward to hearing from each of you,” Ivanka told the group of about a dozen business leaders, “as we think about the unique challenges that entrepreneurs, women in the workforce, female small business owners are confronted with each and every day, and as we think [about] how we level the playing field for this generation and for the next.”
The appearance came against the backdrop of a searing controversy over the impact of Ivanka’s newfound prominence in the White House on her commercial brand.
On Monday, Burlington Stores joined other retailers in choosing not to carry Ivanka’s apparel on its website, according to a report in Business Insider. And over the weekend, Sears Holdings, the parent company of US retail stores Sears and Kmart, pulled 31 Trump-branded products from its website.
Although Ivanka holds no formal role in the White House, she has frequently participated in official events with the president while her husband, Jared Kushner, is a senior adviser to the president.
She sat next to Trudeau at Monday’s roundtable, which established a new taskforce called the United States Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Business Leaders-Female Entrepreneurs. Donald Trump, who sat across from his daughter, said Ivanka “is very much involved” in issues pertaining to women in the workplace.
Ivanka’s proximity to the administration has nonetheless come under increased scrutiny as her brand has begun to fall under the weight of her father’s political profile.
Earlier this month, Nordstrom became the first major retailer to stop selling Ivanka’s merchandise, citing a decline in sales. Luxury department store Neiman Marcus soon followed suit and dropped Ivanka’s jewelry line.
Sales of Ivanka’s products at Nordstrom had dropped more than 70% in the weeks before the 8 November election, according to internal data reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Following Nordstrom’s decision, Donald Trump and the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, publicly denounced the retailer for what they dubbed a political decision.
“My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom,” Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
Spicer meanwhile called Nordstrom’s move a “direct attack” on the president’s policies and Ivanka’s name.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s senior counselor, arguably lit the biggest fire by using a televised interview on Fox News, taped from the White House, to promote Ivanka’s merchandise.
Conway’s conduct was met with considerable backlash, prompting a letter from the House oversight committee recommending she be disciplined if necessary.
The dust-up over Ivanka’s brand has, in many ways, proved to be an early microcosm of the looming conflict of interest questions surrounding Donald Trump and his family’s empire as he governs from the Oval Office.
Ivanka said she would take a leave of absence from her business when her father was sworn in as president.
“I will take a formal leave of absence from the Trump Organization and my eponymous apparel and accessories brand,” Ivanka wrote on 11 January.
“I will no longer be involved with the management or operations of either company.”
But according to ProPublica, she was still listed as running Trump businesses on at least some active liquor licenses associated with the family’s properties.
Richard Painter, a White House ethics lawyer under George W Bush, said by acting as a de facto government employee, Ivanka was running the risk of mixing official business with her commercial enterprises.
“If she wants to sit in as a woman business leader, I guess she can,” Painter said.
“But she can’t be getting into stuff at the White House that affects her businesses … She better stay an outsider.”
Painter said the Trump administration’s attack on companies that chose to no longer do business with Ivanka, such as Nordstrom, was the most concerning aspect of the saga.
“What Kellyanne Conway did was shilling for the Ivanka Trump brand from the White House – she shouldn’t do it,” he said.
“But much worse is trying to use the force of the government, the power of the government, to intimidate private markets for dissidents who don’t choose to do business with a member of the president’s family.”
“That’s where the attacks on Nordstrom were particularly reprehensible.”