Jared Kushner has been saddled with a diverse array of responsibilities throughout his tenure in his father-in-law's White House. At various points, he's been in charge of brokering peace in the Middle East, overhauling the federal bureaucracy, fixing the opioid epidemic, negotiating international trade deals, and, for good measure, ending America's mass incarceration. Few of these problems, if any, are ones that a mid-Atlantic real estate heir with no policymaking experience is equipped to solve, and yet the president has nonetheless decided that his son-in-law would make a good point man for all of them.
Now, according to The Washington Post, Kushner has a new item in his ever-expanding policy portfolio: overseeing the construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and streamlining the project's many moving parts in order to maximize the number of miles erected over the next year. This is an especially pressing issue for the White House, as Trump's most famous campaign promise has gone largely unfulfilled in the two-plus years since he took office. Congress repeatedly rejected appeals to appropriate money for construction, and the first few miles of new wall—wall that did not replace a previous barrier—went up just last month, per The New York Times. With his bid for a second term in full swing, Trump seems to be in search of something resembling progress on the wall.
Administration officials have framed Kushner's new task as an ideal assignment for his purported areas of expertise. "He doesn’t need to know the intricacies of the wall. He understands building stuff," Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan explained to the Post. "He understands timelines." Kushner apparently convenes biweekly West Wing meetings on the subject, and like Trump, he wants 400 miles built by Election Day and 450 miles by the end of next year—an average pace of more than one mile per day. North Dakota Republican senator Kevin Cramer expressed cautious optimism that the imposition of Kushner's business acumen will "put a more laser focus on the project and the process," and "light a fire under the responsible agencies" to get things done.
Thus far, it appears that Kushner has mostly succeeded at proving to those agencies that he is, once again, way out of his depth.
One person involved in the construction of the wall, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly, said Kushner has annoyed officials involved in the process because they said he displayed a lack of knowledge about the government procurement process and the “realities” of the project.
“So he took a much more hands-on role in figuring out, mile by mile, how to get more wall up,” this person said. “It didn’t help put wall up faster and cheaper. His interventions actually just created more inefficiency in the process.”
This progress report comes two weeks after a separate Washington Post report that Kushner has been pushing for the installation of 24-hour webcam coverage of the construction efforts for next year, hoping to produce images that Trump can share on Twitter as evidence of meaningful progress. Kushner's initiative rankled officials on the ground, who want to keep their building techniques confidential and avoid wasting time and resources setting up internet connections in remote areas of the desert, all in the name of pacifying a president's election-induced anxiety.
That's not the only change in policy on border-wall construction. In places where the federal government already owns the land adjacent to the border, building a wall on top of it entails little red tape. Along the more populated stretches of the border in Texas, however, much of the land is privately owned. Building in the rugged Rio Grande floodplain, too, presents engineering challenges and dangers to nearby communities that building in the flat, empty desert does not. The constitutionally enshrined power of eminent domain allows the government to seize private property for public use, as long as it provides compensation to the newly deprived owners. But eminent domain proceedings take time, and owners can take the government to court in an effort to hold on to their land—and for a project as controversial as the border wall, many people have expressed their willingness to do so. According to the Post, more than 800 seizures will be necessary in order to meet Trump's and Kushner's stated goal.
Trump, never one to feel especially burdened by the constraints of procedure, has urged officials to "take the land" in recent months, and reportedly even offered pardons to any officials whose zealousness for taking people's homes and businesses to fulfill his campaign promise lands them in legal trouble. Kushner's similarly "aggressive" stance on the subject apparently prompted Army Corps Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, the Army's principal engineering adviser, to remind officials that they are to "follow the law and not worry about politics," the Post reports. Handing to his son-in-law a project this important to the president's campaign is a vintage bit of Trumpian problem-solving: When following the rules is inconvenient, find someone willing to bend them on your behalf.
In a single summer, the Team USA co-captain went toe to toe with the president, achieved World Cup glory, and became a swaggering symbol of American excellence.
Originally Appeared on GQ