Jared Kushner's Role In Coronavirus Response Draws Scrutiny

Apr 3, 2020
Originally published on April 3, 2020 2:47 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, made a rare appearance during yesterday's coronavirus briefing. He criticized governors for not having a handle on their supplies of masks and ventilators.

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JARED KUSHNER: This is a time of crisis, and you're seeing certain people are better managers than others.

KELLY: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has more on Kushner's role in the coronavirus response and the backlash he's now facing.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Jared Kushner does most of his work behind the scenes, so he created some buzz when he showed up in the White House briefing room yesterday.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Jared.

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ORDOÑEZ: He's a real estate developer. And critics have wondered, what is he doing behind the scenes during this public health crisis? He said Pence and Trump are looking to him for new ideas on getting medical supplies.

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KUSHNER: The president also wanted us to make sure we think outside the box, make sure we're finding all the best thinkers in the country, making sure we're getting all the best ideas.

ORDOÑEZ: Part of that is using his connections. And he has the ear of his father-in-law.

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KUSHNER: Just this morning, very early this morning, I got a call from the president. He told me he was hearing from friends of his in New York that the New York public hospital system was running low on critical supply.

ORDOÑEZ: He has ties to people in New York, his hometown, hit hard by this crisis.

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KUSHNER: I called Dr. Katz, who runs the system, asked him which supply was the most supply he was nervous about. He told me it was the N95 masks. I asked what his daily burn was, and I basically got that number, called up Adm. Polowczyk, made sure we had the inventory.

ORDOÑEZ: Kushner says he's getting results. He's working with FEMA and a military expert, Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, to get things where they need to be. Kushner said the problem is some governors don't know what supplies they have on hand.

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KUSHNER: And the notion of the federal stockpile - it was supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use.

ORDOÑEZ: Governors like Laura Kelly, a Democrat from Kansas, disagree. She says the national stockpile is supposed to be a backup for states and says the Trump administration should have done more to fill it.

LAURA KELLY: I would dismiss what Mr. Kushner said. That is absolutely not the way that it is supposed to work.

ORDOÑEZ: A day after Kushner made these remarks, language in a government webpage about the national stockpile was changed to more closely reflect Kushner's description. Asked today about Kushner's remarks, Trump said his son-in-law was, quote, "talking about our country." Some questioned Kushner's experience.

CRAIG FUGATE: Last time I checked, he's never run disasters.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Craig Fugate, who was head of FEMA in the Obama administration. He said the virus is moving so fast that states can't keep up.

FUGATE: My experience in disasters is the burn rate is always greater than what anybody anticipates. And if we had waited for states to identify their needs, we were always behind and not there fast enough.

ORDOÑEZ: Ethics groups are concerned. They worry Kushner is running a shadow task force. But Andy Slavitt, Obama's administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, calls this an all-hands-on-deck effort.

ANDY SLAVITT: The issue should be - you don't need five generals. We need to know - we need somebody in charge. We need a top-down structure where we get decisions made quickly.

ORDOÑEZ: He has no problem if Jared Kushner or other parts of the government get involved. He said the United States can use all the help it can get, but he says it needs to be done in a way that is much more organized and disciplined. And he thinks the military is better equipped to lead that effort.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.