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What Role Will Ivanka Trump Play In Her Father's Administration?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And I'm joined this Wednesday morning by commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts. It's part of our new regular segment where we ask you, the listeners, to send questions about the ways of Washington and politics over to Cokie, and then she answers them. Unsurprisingly, with a new administration coming to the White House, there is more than a little curiosity about the various roles of members of the Trump family. So Cokie is here to answer one question in particular about Ivanka Trump. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel. This is fun.

MARTIN: This is very fun. I had the same question. So let's listen to one of our listeners explain. Here is the question.

KAREN OLSTAD: My name is Karen Olstad, and I live in Bellingham, Wash. I heard that Ivanka Trump will get an office in the White House in the same space reserved for the first lady. Ivanka's title is still to be determined. What's wrong with first lady if she's doing the job? Is there a regulation that the first lady has to be the wife of the president? Thanks.

MARTIN: So, Cokie?

ROBERTS: Actually, we think that the title first lady was designed for someone who was not the wife of the president. The first time that that title was ever in the newspapers was during the Buchanan administration, when his niece, Harriet Lane, was serving as first lady. He was our only bachelor president. It was a terrible time, of course, in America - right before the Civil War.

She got high marks for trying to keep Northerners and Southerners from killing each other in the White House. But the title first lady probably didn't start with her. It would also be true that Ivanka Trump has been saying that she doesn't expect to have an office in the White House, but she is likely to play a role because she's clearly one of her father's major advisers. And she probably will play that hostess role, at least until Melania arrives in Washington later in the year.

MARTIN: A hostess role is one thing, but weighing in on policy is something different. And Ivanka Trump has talked about being interested in - in real, substantive issues - child care in particular, issues related to working moms. Have we seen other first daughters be in this position before?

ROBERTS: Well, we've seen first daughters really be powerful - back to the James Monroe administration, when his wife, Elizabeth Monroe, was not well, and his daughter, Eliza Hay, took over the first lady role. And she was very powerful in Washington, and nobody could stand her. She was mean. In fact, I'm quoting now from her successor, Louisa Katherine Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams, who said she is "so proud and so mean, no reputation is safe in her hands."

MARTIN: Whoa.

ROBERTS: "And I never, since the first moment of my acquaintance with her, have heard her speak well of any human being." And Margaret Truman also filled in a lot. And then you had other first daughters, like Maureen Reagan, who was co-chair of the Republican National Committee, but definitely not first lady.

MARTIN: We've seen first ladies in the past take on kind of an issue that's their signature cause. Mrs. Trump - Melania Trump - has said she wants to address cyber-bullying. How did this originate?

ROBERTS: Actually, Martha Washington, right there, right at the start, lobbied Congress for veterans' benefits because she had been at camp with the Revolutionary War soldiers every winter of the long Revolutionary War. And many first ladies since then have taken on these roles of finding a cause but also exerting power. And it's been interesting to see Mrs. Obama say how she's willing to help Mrs. Trump along these lines, in the same way that Mrs. Bush helped her.

MARTIN: Well, you have actually sat down, on a couple of occasions, with Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bush, who genuinely seem to have some kind of rapport. How important is it in presidential transitions that first ladies communicate well?

ROBERTS: It makes it much, much easier for the incoming administration. And Michelle Obama says that Laura Bush has been there with her from the beginning. And interviewing the two women together is a delight because they really, genuinely are friends, but they're also very interested in bettering the positions of women and girls around the world, something they plan to do together. It would set a good example for the men, Rachel.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Indeed. Commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts - she will join us Wednesdays to answer your questions. You can tweet us at MORNING EDITION with the hashtag #askcokie. Of course, you can join the conversation on Snapchat. Snap us at NPR. Or you can email us the old-fashioned way - askcokie@npr.org. Cokie, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: Happy New Year, Rachel.

MARTIN: Happy New Year, Cokie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.