The president of the United States has a very difficult job, and in recent weeks we’ve all been given to wonder whether President Donald Trump really wants to do it. Last week, Trump’s first big legislative initiative ― the American Health Care Act ― foundered, partially due to the fact that the president abruptly stopped trying to facilitate negotiations with members of Congress. Over the latter half of Thursday, we went from House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) extolling Trump’s efforts, to Trump suddenly bailing on the effort and demanding a Friday resolution to the matter ― which all but guaranteed it wouldn’t be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.
But over the weekend, the president’s philosophy on running the country suddenly became more clear. Trump wants to get a lot of work done, he just wants his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to do it.
As the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker reported on Sunday, Kushner has been tapped to run an entirely new office with the “sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises ― such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction.”
Okay, but let’s cast our minds back to Jan. 9, when the same newspaper reported this:
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President-elect Donald Trump and one of his closest confidants, will join the White House as a senior adviser to the president, Trump announced Monday, while a lawyer assisting the family said that Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, will not immediately take on a formal role.
Kushner, who will not take a salary, is expected to have a broad portfolio that includes government operations, trade deals and Middle East policy, according to a member of Trump’s transition team. In a statement, the transition office said Kushner would work closely with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon to execute Trump’s agenda.
And on Feb. 10, The Washington Post reported:
Trump said he wanted to explore the possibilities for making what he has called “the ultimate deal,” a peace pact between Israel and the Palestinians. He is deploying his son-in-law — and now senior adviser on the Middle East — Jared Kushner to the task.
So, if you’re keeping track, Jared Kushner, who comes to Washington with no government experience, no policy experience, no diplomatic experience, and business experience limited to his family’s real estate development firm, a brief stint as a newspaper publisher, and briefly bidding to acquire the Los Angeles Dodgers, will be working on trade, Middle East policy in general, an Israel-Palestine peace deal more specifically, reforming the Veterans Administration, and solving the opioid crisis.
Oh wait, that’s not all! Apparently, this new office will also be responsible for “modernizing the technology and data infrastructure of every federal department and agency; remodeling workforce-training programs; and developing “transformative projects” under the banner of Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, such as providing broadband internet service to every American.”
We have certainly come a long way from “I alone can fix it.”
How is Jared Kushner going to do all of these things? Simply “modernizing the technology and data infrastructure of every federal department and agency” is an enormous undertaking. In the United Kingdom, they had to create a whole new cabinet agency just to surmount that challenge. It would be great if Kushner would simply work on that one thing, or any one of these things. Instead, Kushner has now basically been saddled with several full-time jobs, in which he is responsible for fulfilling many, if not all, of his father-in-law’s campaign promises.
Just imagine what Kushner’s daily schedule is going to be like:
9:00-9:30: “Fox and Friends” debrief.
9:30-10:00: Provide broadband internet service to entire nation.
10:00-11:00: Stop working on providing broadband internet service to entire nation to focus on just providing it to entire government first.
11:30-1:00: Working lunch to solve the intractable Israel-Palestine peace process that adults in government have been working on to no avail for decades.
1:00-1:30: What do you mean there are other places in the Middle East that need tending to? FFS, people, I can’t possibly do everything!
1:30-2:00: Daily “I can’t possibly do everything” meeting with POTUS. POTUS reminds Kushner that the AHCA went down because he was off in Aspen, skiing.
2:00-2:15: Cancel all skiing vacations for the foreseeable future.
2:15-2:30: Search for another samovar of coffee to push through the rest of the afternoon.
2:30-3:30: Develop one “transformative project for America under the banner of Trump’s $1 billion infrastructure program.”
3:30-3:45: Meeting with POTUS to discuss “transformative project.” POTUS says there is still something missing.
3:45-4:15: WHAT IS IT MISSING? COME ON KUSHNER, THINK! YOU CAN DO THIS.
4:15-4:30: Trump’s name added to transformative project. POTUS signs off.
4:30-4:45: A brief wander through the White House. How did it come to this? Didn’t life used to be so much simpler? I could have done anything. I really would have liked to own the Dodgers. Oh, man, the crack of bat, fists pounding on leather, the scents of an afternoon ballgame? Heaven is a patch of well-manicured grass, the cheers of the crowd, fathers in the upper decks teaching their freckle-faced kids how to score the game, and nothing but the expanse of a hazy Southern California afternoon ahead of you. That should have been me. That’s what I was meant to do. How did I end up here? I only vaguely remember: My name, shouted in a certain dawn … a message … a summons … There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where I could have said – no. But somehow, I missed it.
4:45-6:00: Fix the VA system, the opioid crisis, streamline government, and maybe do some trade stuff?
6:00: Fifteen hours of weeping.
Oh, hey, I nearly forgot: For the time being, Kushner is going to be wrapped up in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into “ties between Trump associates and Russian officials or others linked to the Kremlin,” so that’s going to cut into a lot of these activities.
Now, the good news, if you’re Kushner, is that this latest thing he’ll be tapped to run may as well be called “the Office of Farming Out All This Work To Other People.” The Washington Post describes this agency as one that will “harvest ideas from the business world and, potentially, [privatize] some government functions.” (If you hate the VA hospital system now, just wait until it has a fiduciary responsibility to turn a profit for shareholders!)
Parker and Rucker report that this arrangement is “viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants” and is “designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington,” which is what I thought Trump was going to do himself.
Of course, “SWAT teams of strategic consultants” already exist ― they are called management consulting firms and one could presumably simply give them money to do things like overhaul veterans’ hospitals. But that wouldn’t give Kushner the chance to run his own version of McKinsey out of the White House, where he can build up his own prestige while commanding the participation of people like “Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Salesforce Chief Executive Marc Benioff and Tesla founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk” ― all of whom already have full-time jobs.
Still, we’re on the verge of someone having to write a “Can Jared Kushner Have It All” think piece, and it’s all down to the fact that Donald Trump seems to know very few people ― and trust even fewer ― and so task after task keeps being placed on the shoulders of a small inner circle of advisers. And at least two factions of that inner circle seems to openly loathe one another ― the Reince Priebus faction is made up of government careerists who are distrusted by the Steve Bannon faction, who want to humiliate career bureaucrats, dismantle the “administrative state,” and spend the rest of their free time oppressing immigrants and Muslims. Those are two legs of what Vox’s Matt Yglesias describes as Trump’s “three legged stool” of staffing, with the third being “the entire extended Trump family,” of which Kushner is the nominal head.
All of this means that Trump will likely never court some of the controversy that his predecessor, President Barack Obama faced. When Obama staffed up, he found different people to tackle different problems or run specific policy portfolios ― all of which led to extended criticism that he was placing a coterie of unaccountable “czars” (or if you prefer, “tsars”) in White House gigs. Trump is solving this dilemma by making Kushner the Everything Czar ― though it’s starting to look like Kushner is the de facto president, and Trump is the czar of golfing and tweeting.
But who knows if Kushner is going to be able to successfully take on this immense pile of work all by himself. Even if all he’ll be doing is shuttling the half-baked ideas of Silicon Valley CEOs up and down the administrative ladder, at some point, people are going to remember all the things for which Trump made his son-in-law responsible and wonder if this arrangement really makes sense. And the longer that actual solutions to these problems elude the Trump White House, the worse it will be for Kushner.
In the end, Donald Trump may have to do the one thing he’s long been loath to do: give his daughter Tiffany a job. (Also, he might have to take some personal responsibility for something.)
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.