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Jared of all trades: Kushner’s ever-expanding White House portfolio

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This week, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, traveled to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi officials and U.S. military personnel about the fight against ISIS.

Despite having no military or foreign policy training, Kushner’s unexpected arrival in Baghdad was hardly a shock to those who’ve been tracking the rapid expansion of the 36-year-old real estate developer’s wide-ranging White House portfolio.

From quietly choreographing U.S. relations with China to remodeling the federal government and brokering peace in the Middle East, it appears there are increasingly few aspects of his father-in-law’s administration that Kushner does not have his hands in. Politico’s Playbook mapped out much of Kushner’s expansive portfolio over the weekend.

ISIS

While in Baghdad this week, Kushner expressed support on behalf of President Trump for the Iraqi government’s efforts to fight the Islamic State.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had reportedly invited Kushner, as well as White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, on the trip to hear “firsthand and unfiltered” from U.S. forces and military advisers on the ground in Iraq.

Jared Kushner, left, speaks with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before departing for Iraq from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 3, 2017. (Photo: DoD/Handout via Reuters)
Jared Kushner, left, speaks with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before departing for Iraq from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 3, 2017. (Photo: DoD/Handout via Reuters)

China communiqué

Kushner is expected to return from surveying the situation in Iraq in time for Trump’s highly anticipated meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping — which Kushner reportedly helped orchestrate.

According to the New York Times, for Chinese officials put off by Trump’s erraticism, the comparatively mild-mannered Kushner has emerged as an approachable liaison to the White House.

It was reportedly Kushner who worked with Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai to set up the February phone call in which Trump reassured Xi that the U.S. would continue to honor the country’s long-standing “One China” policy with respect to Taiwan. China was rattled after Trump took a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president during the transition.

And though the White House maintains that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is at the helm of U.S.-China relations, the Times reported that it was Kushner and Cui who collaborated to facilitate Xi’s upcoming visit — including the decision for the two presidents to meet at Trump’s Florida club, Mar-a-Lago.

Mexico middleman

China is apparently not the only country to engage in back-channel communications with Trump’s son-in-law. The Washington Post reported in February that, despite his lack of foreign policy experience, Kushner’s ability to act as a sort of Trump whisperer had already made him the go-to contact for representatives from over two dozen countries — including Mexico.

Following a presidential campaign in which Trump railed against Mexico, Kushner managed, albeit briefly, to assuage tensions between Trump and Mexican officials, according to the Post, amid tensions over Trump’s vow to build a border wall between the two countries.

The détente was short-lived, however, as Trump resumed antagonizing Mexico via Twitter the morning after his speech, prompting Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel plans to meet with Trump the following week.

Middle East peacemaker

Squashing a beef between Trump and his Mexican counterpart should be a breeze compared to Kushner’s most ambitious task: negotiating peace in the Middle East.

Trump drew plenty of skepticism when, at a dinner with donors ahead of his inauguration, he turned to his son-in-law and declared, “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.”

In the wake of Trump’s inauguration, Kushner has reportedly been in frequent communication with Arab diplomats, and last month he sent a White House envoy to hear from Israeli and Palestinian officials. Yet it remains to be seen how he may plan to solve the puzzle that has long eluded career diplomats and foreign policy experts.

Iraq’s Defence Minister Erfan al-Hiyali welcomes Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner in Baghdad on Monday. (Photo: Stringer/Reuters)
Iraq’s Defence Minister Erfan al-Hiyali welcomes Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner in Baghdad on Monday. (Photo: Stringer/Reuters)

White House innovator

As if Kushner’s plate wasn’t already full enough, last week Trump announced that he would be putting his son-in-law in charge of a new White House Office of American Innovation.

The new office has been billed as a “SWAT team,” which, under Kushner’s direction, promises to make the federal government run more like a business than a bureaucracy and apply corporate strategies to tackling a wide range of issues, from veterans affairs to combating the opioid epidemic.

Criminal justice reformer

Just days after Kushner was installed at the helm of the new White House innovation office, he was spotted on Capitol Hill for a meeting with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, to discuss criminal justice reform.

According to BuzzFeed, the White House sent Kushner to meet with Grassley and Durbin about their plan to introduce new legislation, similar to a previous criminal justice reform bill that stalled in Congress last year.

Though many advocates of reform had been discouraged by Trump’s promise to restore “law and order,” as well as his selection of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, BuzzFeed noted that Kushner’s presence at the recent meeting suggests criminal justice reform under Trump isn’t entirely out of the question.

Grassley told BuzzFeed that he expected to find out whether the White House is interested in the bill “in three weeks.”

Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, depart the White House with President Trump on March 3. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, depart the White House with President Trump on March 3. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Protector of LGBT rights

Advocates of gay rights reportedly have Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, to thank for Trump’s decision to preserve federal protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Amid the wave of executive orders signed in the weeks after Trump’s inauguration, a draft began to circulate of an order that would undo a 2014 executive order signed by then-President Barack Obama. The order guaranteed protections for federal employees against anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace. The draft order also sought to grant broad exemptions to a variety of federal laws under the banner of religious freedom.

Though the White House has insisted that the draft order was just one of several proposed during Trump’s transition and that he never intended to sign it, Politico reported that it was Trump’s daughter and son-in-law who thwarted the order.

Climate change agreement keeper

Social issues aren’t the only arena in which Kushner is believed to have a moderating influence on his father-in-law.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Kushner and Ivanka were also responsible for getting critical language about a global climate deal removed from an executive order to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations before it was signed by Trump.

The language in question referred to the 2015 Paris agreement, a pledge signed by nearly 200 countries, including the United States, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to combat climate change.

On the campaign trail, Trump had promised to “cancel” the climate change commitment, and some in his inner circle, like senior adviser Steve Bannon, had reportedly urged the president to follow through on that promise. However, when the executive order to dismantle a number of his predecessor’s environmental protections finally reached Trump’s desk for a signature late last month, it made no mention of the Paris agreement.

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