Trump Relatives' Potential White House Roles Could Test Anti-Nepotism Law Donald Trump has suggested he may give his daughter and son-in-law a role in his administration. A law bars presidents from hiring family, but a court ruled it doesn't apply to White House staff jobs.
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Trump Relatives' Potential White House Roles Could Test Anti-Nepotism Law

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Trump Relatives' Potential White House Roles Could Test Anti-Nepotism Law

Trump Relatives' Potential White House Roles Could Test Anti-Nepotism Law

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When President-elect Donald Trump moves to Washington, it appears that his daughter and son-in-law will be coming along. Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, reportedly have bought a mansion just two miles from the White House. Whether these family members could take an official role in the new administration isn't clear. As NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, a 50-year-old law prevents presidents from hiring their relatives.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: When President John F. Kennedy took office, he did something that shocked a lot of people. He appointed his younger brother Bobby to be attorney general. Darrell West is director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

DARRELL WEST: It was very controversial at the time. Lyndon Johnson in particular did not like that. And when he became president, he helped shepherd this anti-nepotism rule through the U.S. Congress.

ZARROLI: The law said that presidents may not appoint relatives to Cabinet and agency jobs. Julian Zelizer, professor of history at Princeton, says the law made sense for several reasons.

First, constituents need to know presidents are hiring the best people, not just someone they're related to. Perhaps more important, it can be hard for other White House officials to say no to a president's family members.

JULIAN ZELIZER: And so you create an environment where people might be less willing to take on and challenge someone because they're related to the president and because they have this connection.

ZARROLI: The nepotism law hasn't been tested much, but when Bill Clinton named First Lady Hillary Clinton to head his health care reform task force, the move was challenged in court. A federal judge ruled that the law did not apply to the White House staff. Trump's spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway cited that ruling last month on MSNBC when asked about Trump's children working in the White House.

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KELLYANNE CONWAY: The anti-nepotism law apparently has an exception if you want to work in the West Wing because the president is able to appoint his own staff.

ZARROLI: The Trump children may also be able to get around the law by working informally without taking a salary. But just because something is legal doesn't mean it's good politics, says Darrell West. He says President Kennedy caused a public backlash when he hired his brother. The same thing could happen this time.

WEST: People might accept the fact that it was legal, but they would not necessarily view it as ethical or wise.

ZARROLI: And Princeton's Julian Zelizer says it's important to keep in mind the spirit of the anti-nepotism rule. He says it was part of a series of laws passed in the '60s and '70s to address the growing distrust of the presidency.

ZELIZER: We shouldn't forget why we have these. It was to try to purify the presidency to a certain respect or to create more accountability in the people that they appoint.

ZARROLI: There's another legal problem to resolve. Unlike the president himself, Ivanka Trump and her husband would probably be subject to conflict of interest laws if they took formal White House jobs. Trump may want his family by his side in the West Wing, but having them there may come at a financial cost. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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