As the worldwide death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surges past 48,500 (according to figures reported by John Hopkins University in Baltimore early Thursday morning, April 2) and the United States becomes #3 in deaths from COVID-19 (behind only Italy and Spain), President Donald Trump is trying to give the impression that he is being as proactive as possible. Gone are the days when Trump irresponsibly described the pandemic as a “hoax” and made the ludicrous claim that Democrats and Never Trump conservatives were exaggerating its dangers. And Trump’s efforts to appear proactive are asserting themselves not only with his coronavirus task force (which includes medical experts Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx), but also, with a separate coronavirus team led by White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner (the president’s son-in-law).
Kushner’s activities during the pandemic are the focus of an in-depth article written by journalists Adam Cancryn and Dan Diamond and published in Politico this week. According to Cancryn and Diamond, “What started two-and-a-half weeks ago as an effort to utilize the private sector to fix early testing failures has become an all-encompassing portfolio for Kushner, who…. has taken charge of the most important challenges facing the federal government: expanding test access, ramping up industry production of needed medical supplies, and figuring out how to get those supplies to key locations.”
Here are some of the most important points from Politico and other media outlets about Kushner’s role in the Trump Administration’s response to coronavirus.
1. Kushner reportedly told Trump that Andrew Cuomo was exaggerating the need for ventilations in New York State — whereas Anthony Fauci agrees with Cuomo
In Democratic circles, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being praised as “America’s governor” for his aggressive response to the pandemic. Cuomo has been warning that hospitals in his state, especially in New York City, are absolutely overwhelmed but will be even more overwhelmed in the weeks ahead. And according to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, Kushner reportedly told Trump that Cuomo is exaggerating the need for ventilators in New York State — a claim Trump has echoed.
On March 26, Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that New York didn’t need “40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.” But when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Dr. Anthony Fauci if he had any reason to doubt Cuomo, the expert immunologist responded, “There are a lot of different calculations. My experience, I tend to believe Gov. Cuomo.”
2. There is a ‘limited vetting of private companies’ in Kushner’s operation
In their Politico article, Cancryn and Diamond explain that with Kushner’s coronavirus operation, “People around Kushner are fielding all manner of outside pitches, making it difficult for the group to stay focused. And there is limited vetting of private companies and executives’ financial interests, raising questions about the motivations and potential conflicts inherent in an operation that relies on an ill-defined and ever-expanding group of outside contributors.”
3. CREW fears a lack of transparency
Cancryn and Diamond, in their Politico piece, note that the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has expressed some concerns about Kushner’s coronavirus operation — including a lack of transparency, insufficient vetting of the private companies involved and possible conflicts of interest.
Jordan Libowitz, a CREW spokesperson, explained, “They’re not necessarily doing something nefarious, but if they were, this is what they would do to hide it.”
4. Kushner’s coronavirus authority now exceeds that of Health Secretary Alex Azar
Previously, Alex Azar (secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) led Trump’s coronavirus response. But Cancryn and Diamond point out that Kushner now has a more prominent role than Azar, noting, “Kushner’s team has stepped in to coordinate decision-making at agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — and the scope of his authority now exceeds that of Health Secretary Alex Azar, the one-time leader of Trump’s coronavirus response.”