Jared Kushner, the high-profile White House official and son-in-law of President Trump, is suddenly enjoying some renewed momentum on one of his prime projects — criminal-justice reform — while facing major tests on a potential Mideast peace deal and a trade agreement with Mexico.
The senior White House adviser with the seemingly ever-expansive portfolio spoke in a rare public setting on Thursday, making a surprise appearance on a conference call with reporters to promote his criminal-justice plans on Capitol Hill.
In brief remarks, Kushner stressed that the White House is “very close” to finalizing a criminal-justice-reform package in the Senate, where the push has long been mired in internal Republican Party divisions. The House passed a pared-down criminal-justice bill earlier this year with significant bipartisan margins.
“I think that the most important thing is that we continue to keep the pressure up and keep building the momentum that we built to date for these reforms,” Kushner said on the call hosted by FreedomWorks and the Justice Action Network, an advocacy group working on changes to sentencing and prisons.
He added: “This bill will help a lot of people, but it will also keep our communities safer, which is a big priority of the president.”
Kushner has worked for months with key House lawmakers and senators to shepherd through a legislative package that reforms federal prison policy and, potentially, mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. The issue is one where Kushner has seen some success, although the measure is still far from being signed into law and otherwise allies of the White House, such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), are determined to kill it.
But other Kushner-led efforts have quietly faded from the spotlight, such as a massive reorganization of the federal government that was announced with much fanfare last year. Kushner, who is married to Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, was also questioned by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team last November and struggled for months under the Trump presidency to gain a permanent security clearance, which he obtained in late May.
And still other Kushner initiatives will come under renewed attention and scrutiny in the coming weeks. He is expected to soon unveil a U.S. proposal to settle the seven-decade conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a project that Trump assigned to Kushner with trademark confidence.
“If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump said, addressing Kushner on the eve of his inauguration last year.
But what Trump calls “the ultimate deal” has drifted to a back-burner issue, with Kushner’s package proposal still under wraps and no direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Trump administration has given no release date for the plan, but Kushner has been hiring additional staff and making other moves that suggest a rollout within weeks or before the end of the year.
The combination of Kushner’s business background, his family relationship to Trump and his proud Jewish faith were supposed to help him cut through entrenched positions and demands on both sides. But Palestinian leaders have largely written off the project despite Kushner’s efforts, and have refused to meet with him or his expanding staff since last year out of anger at Trump’s declaration in December that the United States considers Jerusalem to be the Israeli capital.
The strength of the Palestinian boycott and international condemnation took Kushner and the Trump team by surprise, and set back release of the plan and the start of negotiations once envisioned for this year. Kushner and chief negotiator Jason D. Greenblatt have worked around Palestinian leaders, seeking out Arab leaders who are their patrons or political supporters and attempting to appeal to Palestinians directly.
“I believe that for a deal to be made, both parties will gain more than they give and feel confident that the lives of their people will be better off in decades from now because of the compromises they make,” Kushner said in a rare interview on the subject. He spoke to the Arabic-language Palestinian newspaper al-Quds during a regional visit in June that was widely seen as a prelude to a quick release of the peace plan.
Kushner and his team held off releasing the plan after that trip and Kushner has not returned to the region, adding to international skepticism that Trump and his son-in-law could succeed where many presidents of both parties have failed.
By its public actions, the administration has largely backed the positions of Israel’s right-wing government. The U.S. Embassy moved to Jerusalem earlier this year, in accordance with Trump’s declaration. The move marked the largest shift away from previous U.S. guidelines for brokering a settlement. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. The administration has said its embassy move does not preclude that outcome, but that has not appeased Arab leaders who Kushner seeks as backers for his plan.
Kushner has also made a project of smoothing the rough edges of Trump’s relationship with Mexico, traveling there and taking a direct interest in trade talks that on Monday yielded an agreement that could rework the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He has quietly worked with Mexico’s foreign minister and other officials, attempting to keep trade talks separate from immigration issues and developing ties with the incoming Mexican government that would implement a new NAFTA. Kushner was credited with helping push through the Mexico deal days ahead of a deadline for negotiations with both Mexico and Canada, but it is not clear whether Canada will sign on.
Partly through his work with Mexico, Kushner played a role in what became the winning U.S.-Mexico-Canada bid to jointly host the World Cup in 2026. While he was not the face of the effort, Kushner celebrated a rare victory.
Ivanka Trump proudly posted a picture of Kushner holding up a soccer jersey on Instagram on Tuesday. The jersey has the name “Kushner” on the back.
“Who is excited for the 2026 FIFA WorldCup??” she wrote.
On criminal justice, Kushner has worked closely with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and has won warm reviews. He dashed to Capitol Hill soon after a pivotal meeting on the issue with Trump last week and met with key senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to begin hashing out a strategy to pass a package of criminal-justice bills after the November midterms.
“I love the guy,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said of Kushner. “He also is able to navigate effectively between the various players in the House and in the Senate and at the White House. It’s a lot of personalities to manage, to navigate between, and I think he does a fantastic job of that.”