President Donald Trump has made Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, the point person on issues related to the long-promised wall along the southern border with Mexico, giving him wide authority to convene meetings and allocate resources in order to get swaths of the structure built by the next election, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The Trump administration has pledged to build 450 miles of new wall along the border before the end of next year in hopes of galvanizing the president’s base. The wall has become a signature focus of Trump’s tenure in the White House and a common rallying cry at his campaign events, but it’s also one of the most controversial issues. About 83 miles of border barrier has been built since his election in 2016, but almost all of that has been replacements of sections that had already been built. Construction on the first new section of wall got underway in Texas just last month.
Kushner, one of Trump’s most trusted advisers, has come on board to make the president’s promises a reality and deliver where others have largely failed. The Post reports he now holds regular meetings with Cabinet-level officials and has pressed those within U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the Army Corps of Engineers to determine how they can move forward more quickly with the plans.
But Kushner has already butted heads with some senior officials who say he doesn’t understand how difficult it is to build a structure that stretches nearly the entire length of the country’s southern border. The Post notes that much of the barrier that the administration has its eyes on will need to be built on private land, resulting in more than 800 filings to seize the property through eminent domain.
Such issues haven’t appeared to bother the president in the past. In August, the Post reported that Trump had told officials in his administration that he would pardon them if they had to break any laws or seize private land to get the structure built.
The White House didn’t dispute that the president said that but clarified that he did so as a joke at the time.
“We think we can get it close to 500 miles by the end of next year, depending on certain terrain conditions,” Trump said in September, according to The New York Times. “We’re building it at breakneck speed.”
Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, defended Kushner’s work to the Post on Monday, saying that his experience managing property in New York had prepared him for the task regardless of his familiarity with eminent domain.
“He doesn’t need to know the intricacies of the wall,” Morgan told the Post. “He understands building stuff. He understands timelines.”
Trump’s delegation to his son-in-law adds the wall effort to Kushner’s vast portfolio of responsibilities, which has included efforts to forge peace in the Middle East, transform the U.S. immigration and criminal justice systems and help guide Trump’s reelection campaign.
The Post also reported earlier this month that various administration officials, including Kushner, were planning to set up a live-streamed “wall cam” to drum up support for the structure.
Funding the wall has also been fraught with controversy. Congress has largely refused to give the president money to build the structure, with many Democrats arguing that the wall would merely be a multibillion-dollar monument to Trump’s anti-immigration agenda and wouldn’t actually address border issues. But Trump declared a national emergency in February in a bid to divert about $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s budget to built it unilaterally.
The Supreme Court ruled in July that the White House could go forward with those plans, handing the president a major victory.
Other officials tasked with building the wall have run into issues dealing with the president’s changing whims. Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was fired in April after voicing her concerns with the project.