President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, said Dr. Anthony Fauci’s concern that reopening the country too quickly could spark fresh “suffering and death” was among many factors the president is considering as he shapes his coronavirus policy moving forwardc.
On Tuesday, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases warned a Senate panel of the “real risk that you will trigger an outbreak” if states ignore the White House coronavirus task force’s guidelines for phased reopenings.
“There’s risk in anything, but the president carries the burden of the 30 million Americans who have lost their jobs due to this historic effort to save lives,” Kushner told Time magazine.
The virus has infected more than 1,370,000 people and killed at least 82,389 in the U.S. since the outbreak began. But the lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the disease have had devastating economic consequences, driving unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression.
Jared Kushner admits there’s “risk” in reopening the country too soon https://t.co/OesORKTEuA #TIME100Talks pic.twitter.com/UMGnK9rTBx— TIME (@TIME) May 12, 2020
Kushner said Fauci was “incredibly knowledgeable” but his expertise was just one voice in a chorus of advice Trump was listening to on how to best manage the crisis.
“You have a lot of policymakers like the president or the governors who were elected by the people in their states and in their country to take the input of the experts and professionals, and then make decisions weighing a lot of different factors,” Kushner said.
Trump has turned to Kushner for help on a number of top policy issues, including the opioid crisis, Middle East peace efforts, construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and criminal justice reform. Vice President Mike Pence is the head of the coronavirus task force, but Kushner has played an influential role in guiding the administration’s response.
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At an April 2 news briefing, Pence said Kushner was working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to keep supply chains open during the outbreak. Kushner defined his role somewhat more broadly, saying Trump tasked him with making sure the administration had the best data and “making sure that we had the right people focused on all the things that needed to happen to make sure that we can deliver in these unusual times for the American people.”
Kushner said the wider availability of medical supplies and personal protective equipment would help the country handle its reopening, along with a public more accustomed to regular handwashing, social distancing and mask-wearing.
He also said a “ton” of testing for the virus would need to be done as the country resumes activities.
“We see testing as one of the keys to unlock the opening, but it’s not the only key,” Kushner told Time.
On Monday, Trump declared “we have prevailed” when it came to expanding testing for the virus – though experts say the U.S. still has a long way to go. Trump clarified that he did not mean to say anyone had prevailed over the virus, which is projected to kill nearly 150,000 people.
“You never prevail when you have … the kind of death you’re talking about,” Trump said.
But critics said the comment reflected a callousness toward the tragic death toll, a charge also leveled at Kushner after he called the administration’s response a “great success story” on April 29.
“I don’t want those comments to be taken in a way other than to contextualize how much our hearts break for the people who have passed and their families,” Kushner told Time when asked about that criticism.
“We know that it’s a terrible tragedy, and one life [lost], as the President said, is too many,” he said. “But faced with the magnitude of what this pandemic was and what it could have been … the situation could have been a lot worse. So we really worked very, very hard to create a better outcome than could have been otherwise.”
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Kushner will once again also play an important role in his father-in-law’s presidential campaign. He said the reelection campaign had been geared to tout the economic successes of Trump’s first four years but would have to shift focus because of the damage caused by the pandemic.
Kushner dismissed polls that show former Vice President Joe Biden leading the race as “inaccurate” and said the election will now be about who voters trust to rebuild the economy. He added that Trump was “looking forward” to debating Biden.
When asked if a second wave of the virus in the fall could cause the Nov. 3 election date to be moved back, Kushner told Time that was “too far in the future to tell.”
“It’s not my decision to make so I’m not sure I can commit one way or the other. But right now that’s the plan,” Kushner said. “Hopefully, by the time we get to September, October, November, we’ve done enough work with testing and with all the different things we’re trying to do to prevent a future outbreak of the magnitude that would make us shut down again.”
When asked if there was a chance the presidential election could be postponed past November 3 due to the pandemic, Jared Kushner said that isn’t his decision. “I’m not sure I can commit one way or the other, but right now that’s the plan” https://t.co/cyqN8VpHbk #TIME100Talks pic.twitter.com/SrzDbUAcwz— TIME (@TIME) May 12, 2020
Kushner’s answer that he could not “commit one way or the other” on the election date drew sharp criticism.
“I can’t believe I have to write this sentence, but the president’s son-in-law doesn’t get to decide when the election is,” said 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
I can’t believe I have to write this sentence, but the president’s son-in-law doesn’t get to decide when the election is. https://t.co/7CrpHny6TF— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) May 13, 2020
“Kushner’s statement reveals amazing ignorance of the Constitution and law,” tweeted conservative commentator Bill Kristol. “It reveals startling arrogance in taking for granted he gets to have some say about when the election is held. It also reveals an utter lack of understanding of his very subordinate role in our democracy.”
The backlash prompted Kushner to issue a clarification later Tuesday.
“I have not been involved in, nor am I aware of, any discussions about trying to change the date of the presidential election,” Kushner said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘There’s risk in anything:’ Kushner says Trump weighing Fauci concerns in reopening in pandemic