“We’re grateful for his efforts and his leadership,” Pence told reporters.
Minutes later, Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, stepped up to the microphone.
After touting his work to address medical supply chain issues, Kushner, in his first appearance at a coronavirus briefing since joining the administration’s effort several weeks ago, pushed back against criticisms that the federal government isn’t doing enough to assist hospitals in hot zones where resources are stretched thin. The 39-year-old went on to accuse some governors and U.S. senators of requesting supplies without knowing exactly what they need and suggested that local officials should be more resourceful in terms of finding equipment within their states before reaching out to the federal government.
“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” he said at one point during the briefing. “It’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use.” (According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the role of the Strategic National Stockpile "is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies.”)
The health crisis, Kushner said, has revealed which leaders are “better managers than others.”
“Some governors you speak to, or senators, and they don’t know what’s in their state,” he said, later adding, “Don’t ask us for things when you don’t know what you have in your own state. Just because you’re scared, you ask your medical professionals and they don’t know. You have to take inventory of what you have in your own state and then you have to be able to show that there’s a real need.”
While Kushner spoke Thursday with an air of authority, his rare on-camera moment appeared to only spark questions and pointed commentary about whether he is qualified to handle his critical duties. Kushner, a former real estate developer turned newspaper publisher, has no medical background and did not have any experience in government before Trump’s election in 2016.
“Is this a joke????” Sunny Hostin, a co-host of ABC’s “The View,” wrote on Twitter alongside a clip of Kushner speaking at the briefing.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday.
Kushner’s involvement in the coronavirus response has been the subject of multiple media reports in recent weeks. As The Washington Post reported on March 18, Kushner assembled his own team of government allies and private industry representatives to work alongside the White House’s official coronavirus task force. Dubbed by some officials as a “shadow task force,” Kushner’s team has reportedly complicated the administration’s response by “adding another layer of confusion and conflicting signals,” according to The Post.
During Thursday’s news conference, Kushner dismissed the suggestion of a “shadow task force” and stressed that he is “serving really at the direction of the vice president.” He added that he consistently communicates with key members of the official task force, including Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator; and Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Kushner struck an optimistic tone as he praised the federal government’s ability to meet the increasing demands for supplies, such as masks and ventilators. By early Friday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States had topped 245,000 with nearly 6,000 reported deaths.
“We’ve done things that the government has never done before, quicker than they’ve ever done it before, and what we’re seeing now is we found a lot of supplies in the country,” he said. “We’ve been distributing them where we anticipate there will be needs and also trying to make sure that we’re hitting places where there are needs.”
The allocation of resources, Kushner said, is based on data submitted by cities and states. But Kushner made a point to note that many of the requests are influenced by predicted estimates, which he said are “not the realistic projections.”
“What you have all over the country is a lot of people are asking for things that they don’t necessarily need at the moment,” he said.
Chief among the concerns of Kushner’s detractors was his apparent lack of qualifications.
In a scathing op-ed titled “Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed,” New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg described Kushner’s current role as “dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.”
“Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life,” Goldberg wrote. “He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.”
“Jared Kushner isn’t qualified to run a lemonade stand, let alone tell governors how to manage critical supply chains,” tweeted actor George Takei, a vocal Trump critic.
But conservative writer Michelle Malkin seemed to suggest that Kushner’s Thursday appearance may have been a unifying moment for the country.
“America is finally united: NOBODY likes Jared Kushner,” Malkin tweeted. “NOBODY wants him in charge. NOBODY.”