The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has made a minor habit out of making damning statements about a pandemic he helped botch the response to. Most notably, at a meeting at the beginning of the crisis, he reportedly said that New Yorkers “are going to suffer and that’s their problem” — remarks first detailed by Vanity Fair last month that Kushner has denied and that are currently plastered across a billboard in Times Square.
On Wednesday, the number of his fumbled comments grew considerably, when CNN published two separate interviews from April and May in which Kushner spelled out the questionable logic underpinning the administration’s pandemic response to journalist Bob Woodward. Though Trump encouraged his son-in-law to speak with Woodward for his book Rage — and called him “one smart cookie” in his own interview with the veteran reporter — Kushner didn’t quite match his tone to the solemnity of the moment. At a time when over 40,000 Americans had already died from COVID-19 and New York City had deployed a fleet of 45 mobile morgues to help control the flow of bodies from overwhelmed hospitals, the adviser was boasting about commandeering the public-health response from “over-confident idiots” and placing it in more capable hands, like those of his college roommate.
Though the president might not be thrilled by Kushner’s comments published on Wednesday, he can hardly blame him for the self-indictments while speaking to Woodward. In his own interview about the administration’s COVID response released last month, Trump got himself into trouble by telling the veteran journalist that he “wanted to always play it down,” referring to the seriousness of the crisis at hand. Below are some of the most damaging things that Trump’s “very capable” son-in-law had no problem confessing, or bragging about, to Woodward.
1. Trump’s push to reopen was a way of “getting the country back from the doctors.”
On April 18, Kushner told Woodward that the White House’s guidance for states to reopen amid the surging COVID-19 outbreak was “almost like Trump getting the country back from the doctors. Right? In the sense that what he now did was, you know, he’s going to own the open-up.” The proposed guidelines for relaxing social distancing that Kushner referenced came just a month after the White House Coronavirus Task Force issued guidelines to slow the spread, which included non-binding social distancing recommendations instead of a nationwide lockdown order.
2. Trump’s three-tiered assessment of the pandemic included “the panic phase, the pain phase,” and “the comeback phase.”
The Trump-Kushner political strategy was apparently based on a three-pronged assessment of the pandemic — the last of which Kushner claimed had already begun by April 18. “That doesn’t mean there’s not still a lot of pain and there won’t be pain for a while,” he told Woodward, suggesting that it was time for the country to move onto the “comeback phase” out of concern for the economy, prioritizing Trump’s reelection prospects over the advice of public-health experts. “We’ve now put out rules to get back to work. Trump’s now back in charge. It’s not the doctors.” Kushner continued to describe the move in adversarial terms. “We have, like, a negotiated settlement.”
3. Trump is an economic “cheerleader” tending to the “psychology of the market.”
Trump’s desire for economic revival involved taking care of the “psychology of the market,” as Kushner put it in a second interview on May 8. “So if you basically say this is coming back in the fall, don’t gear up, then people won’t rehire, people will stay unemployed.” He added, “If you’re planning for the worst-case scenario, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the things that the president’s great at is he’s a cheerleader. He’s trying to make people feel good about the outcome.”
4. Trump was going to “own the opening,” but shun responsibility for the risks posed by doing so.
“The president also is very smart politically with the way he did that fight with the governors, to basically say, ‘No, no, no, no, I own the opening,’” Kushner explained in his April 18 interview. “Because again, the opening is going to be very popular. People want this country open. But if it opens in the wrong way, the question will be, did the governors follow the guidelines we set out or not?” While Kushner said Trump would own the economic message of the opening, individual states would bear the public-health burden and have to “own the testing. The federal government should not own the testing. And the federal government should not own kind of the rules.”
The Trump administration ousted “the over-confident idiots” and replaced them with “people who kind of know their place.”
Kushner told Woodward on April 18 that “the most dangerous people around the president are over-confident idiots,” a comment provided without much introspection considering the hubris that Trump’s son-in-law has brought to many of his White House projects. Many of these purported fools Kushner had already “gotten rid of” and replaced with “a lot more thoughtful people who kind of know their place and know what to do.”
Throughout the pandemic, the administration officials who have fared best are those who have essentially let Trump’s false claims about the virus’s receding threat go unchallenged, or even bolstered them. Joining Kushner at the top of this list is Scott Atlas, the controversial adviser who was reportedly brought into the White House to tell Trump more of what he wanted to hear after task force members Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx contradicted the president’s rosy assertions.