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Amid political turmoil, Ivanka Trump attempts a quiet swing through Idaho

Apple CEO Tim Cook, right, and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump, left, visited Wilder Elementary School to examine the district’s use of technology. In a first-grade classroom, Salvador Esparza shows them work he’s doing on a video. (Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman)
Apple CEO Tim Cook, right, and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump, left, visited Wilder Elementary School to examine the district’s use of technology. In a first-grade classroom, Salvador Esparza shows them work he’s doing on a video. (Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman)

WILDER, Idaho – The head of one of the world’s leading technology companies, and an adviser to and daughter of the nation’s president came to Idaho on Tuesday.

Normally, such a visit would warrant much fanfare. State officials, business leaders, stakeholders and media would all use the opportunity to meet with and report on such a rare official visit to the Gem State.

But this visit almost stayed under the radar.

On Monday morning, the White House informed the Statesman it could send one reporter and one photographer to observe Apple CEO Tim Cook and adviser to the president Ivanka Trump tour a Wilder elementary school the next morning. And there were conditions: The Statesman could not ask questions of or talk to Trump and Cook. It could only observe. The only other media attending the event would be a national crew from ABC.

By Monday afternoon, the Wilder School District sent notification letters about the visit to parents, along with ABC media release forms. Word got out, and local media began to ask about covering the event.

Though the Statesman encouraged the White House to allow more media in, every other local news outlet covering the visit on Tuesday morning had to stage across the street from the school. None were allowed on school property.

Trump’s stop in Idaho was billed as the latest in a series of tours she was conducting as part of her work with the National Council for the American Worker. In July 2018, Apple signed the White House’s Pledge to America’s Workers, committing to train an additional 10,000 people as part of its ongoing initiatives with community colleges in the U.S.

“In the past year, I have visited 20 states across the country … these are states that are often called the laboratories of innovation,” Trump said during her visit.

But Trump’s visit also appeared in large part to be an opportunity for a national news outlet to get photo and video footage of her. After the tour, the Statesman was shown the exit, and ABC sat down with Trump for an interview.

“The ABC thing was Ivanka’s thing,” said Wilder School District Superintendent Jeff Dillon, who is also the middle and high school principal.

Dillon dismissed the notion that the visit was a choreographed photo op.

“[Trump and Cook] came prepared, they knew what was going on and they knew what we were talking about,” Dillon said. “I think it was much more than a photo op. Because if it was just that, they would not have had a clue what we are doing. But they were able to ask very good questions one-on-one, and really understand what was happening when they were talking with students and engaging with students.

“I don’t think it was just a flat-out photo op but that it really, truly was a visit to see innovation in action.”

News outlets outside the school provided ample coverage of supporters and protesters, including Wilder students who say that innovation has caused problems at the district.

And Trump’s visit came amid a recent flurry of other criticism, including over her personal email use, President Donald Trump’s crackdown at the border and last week’s decision by a New York judge to allow a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation to move forward.

Dillon said he was “both surprised and not surprised” by the visit’s unusual format. Typically, when a high-level dignitary comes to town, key officials and stakeholders are involved. The visitor will often give at least a brief public appearance and statement before heading behind closed doors for meetings and discussions. This did not happen, Dillon noted.

Idaho officials were at the celebration that kicked off the Apple initiative at Wilder two years ago. But Tuesday, Gov. Butch Otter and Gov.-elect Brad Little weren’t invited, and the White House didn’t notify them about the trip until Monday afternoon.

Dillon said he could see how following a traditional format would have distracted from the purpose of the visit. The hoopla, he said, could have been disruptive to the students, who were excited to show off their technology skills.

“When I started reflecting on it, the intention was really to look at what was happening in our school,” Dillon said.

“… The best part about it is we did not put on some little spectacle to make it happen. This is what we do every day with students.”

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