At Thursday's White House press briefing on the coronavirus outbreak, presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner appeared at the podium for the first time during the crisis, notes Forbes. Among other things, Kushner said he was taking control of the White House effort to make sure states received masks, ventilators, and other medical equipment. (He generated controversy with his description of the national stockpile's role in the crisis.) Expect to hear much more from or about Kushner, because a flurry of new stories makes clear that he has taken on a major role in leading the White House response, though not everybody is happy about that. Coverage:
- The role: Politico reports that over the last two-plus weeks, Kushner "has emerged as perhaps the most pivotal figure in the national fight against the fast-growing pandemic." If VP Mike Pence is leading an "all-of-government" task force, Kushner is leading more of an "all-of-private-sector" outfit. Among other things, Kushner's team is "working alongside government officials from FEMA, HHS, and USAID to solve a range of logistical and technical challenges" and "has stepped in to coordinate decision-making at agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services," per Politico.
- Problems: The story hits on some potential problems, including the duplication of efforts within federal agencies, some apparent confusion about who is in charge, and business-related conflicts of interest. "I don't know how our government operates anymore," one Republican close to the administration tells Politico.
- Big picture: For a broad look at Kushner's role, including criticism and praise, see the New York Times story on him. "A real estate developer with none of the medical expertise of a public health official nor the mobilization experience of a general, Mr. Kushner has nonetheless become a key player in the response to the pandemic," the story notes. Kushner tells the Times his role is helping federal agencies overcome obstacles. "From the White House, you can move a lot faster," he says. "I've put members of my team into a lot of components. What we've been able to do is get people very quick answers."
- A criticism: For the negative view, look no further than Michelle Goldberg's op-ed in the New York Times, headlined "Putting Jared Kushner in Charge Is Utter Madness" (the original headline was "Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed"). The gist is that she thinks Kushner is no way qualified to be playing such a major role.
- Big quote: At Vanity Fair, Gabriel Sherman reported that Kushner at one meeting about a week ago suggested that governors such as Andrew Cuomo of New York were being alarmists about ventilators. "I have all this data about ICU capacity," said Kushner, according to Sherman. "I'm doing my own projections, and I've gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn't need all the ventilators." Sherman notes that President Trump sounded on board with this thinking, given that he said on March 26: "I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators."
- Praise from Cuomo: The above quote is in wide circulation, but the Times notes that Cuomo himself praised Kushner last week. "He's been extraordinarily helpful on all of these situations."
- Trump anger: Multiple stories report that Trump was seething at Kushner over the botched rollout of what was supposed to be a national website to direct people to testing sites. The stories also note that Oscar Health, a company founded by Kushner's brother, Josh, was originally asked to develop the website. Jared Kushner himself once at least partially owned the company, notes Politico. The project has since been nixed. Trump directed at Kushner "a level of anger that the president's son-in-law has rarely endured and that seemed to knock him off balance briefly," per the Times.
- Disbanded office: At New York, Jonathan Chait writes that Trump's administration eliminated the National Security Council's pandemic-response office in 2018, though the president and his allies chafe at that characterization and say it was more of a reorganization within the NSC. "The story is not false," writes Chait. And the "strongest evidence" of that is that Kushner is now filling nearly the exact role that was eliminated, he adds.
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