“What goes through Jared is what Jared cares about,” a former senior administration official said. “He doesn’t meddle in stuff that he doesn’t care about.”
During his three-plus years working for Trump, Kushner has garnered the most attention for successfully pushing a criminal justice bill to relax strict federal sentencing guidelines, as well as for his long-stalled proposals to establish Middle East peace and overhaul the immigration system.
Behind the scenes, Kushner’s influence has extended far beyond those issues to everything from trade negotiations with China to building a wall on the border with Mexico.
“People realize when they go work in the White House, Jared is the shadow chief of staff,” said a former Senate Republican staffer who is close to the White House. “He’s family. He’s been with the president since the campaign.”
A Republican close to the White House says Trump doesn’t listen to Kushner all of the time, noting it can depend on his son-in-law’s recent successes or failures. “Like everything there, it ebbs and flows,” the person said. The recent spate of negative stories about Kushner relying on volunteers with little expertise for the coronavirus response didn’t help, the person said.
That said, Kushner’s fingerprints are all over major decisions during the coronavirus.
Three weeks ago, after Trump tweeted he would suspend immigration into the United States during the pandemic, it was Kushner who persuaded the president in an Oval Office meeting to carve out business-friendly exceptions for hundreds of thousands of temporary workers, including seasonal farm workers, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
A conservative close to the White House encouraged Meadows to be more assertive in Kushner’s areas, arguing Kushner’s policies are not in line with the conservative base that propelled Trump to the White House. If the administration proceeds with Kushner’s policies, the person said, Trump’s reelection bid could fall short.
“Meadows understands this, they don’t,” the person said referring to Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, also a senior adviser.
Another Republican who speaks to Trump said Meadows hasn’t yet brought enough of his own staff with him to be allies in the White House. Thus far, Meadows has installed just a handful of staffers, including a deputy, a scheduler and a communications adviser. Conversely, Mulvaney brought in more than a dozen aides, including an attorney and national security adviser.
Meadows has tried to make his staffing mark in other ways, most notably in the communications shop, where he pushed out press secretary Stephanie Grisham and installed several staffers he had worked with previously.
The moves left others worried that a broader shakeup was coming to the West Wing. But three people familiar with the situation say the changes also came at the urging of Kushner, who had complained in recent months that the communications and press officers were too passive.
“Jared was the force behind that,” a former senior administration official said. “But he pushed Meadows to do it.”
The White House official said Meadows shared Kushner’s goal “to be more proactive in the press, institute more long-term planning and reestablish a better relationship with reporters.”
Meadows is next positioned to put his stamp on the legislative affairs office, the White House’s main conduit with Capitol Hill. Eric Ueland, the legislative affairs director, appears poised to take a job at the State Department, and Mike McKenna, one of Ueland’s deputies, has already left.
Over at the Domestic Policy Council, however, Meadows didn’t get his way after floating Miller’s name. Giving Miller the DPC job would have technically been a demotion for the senior policy aide who has had a direct channel to the president on a variety of subjects.
Meadows had also contemplated reorganizing the speech-writing team — a stand-alone office led by Miller — but got pushback.
“It is a Jared choice,” a senior administration official involved in the deliberations said last week as the decision was being made. “Meadows does not seem to be in it at all.”
White House spokesman Judd Deere denied that Miller has been or is under consideration for the DPC job. Miller didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In the end, it was a microcosm of the broader lesson for any new Trump chief of staff: You may have one of the most senior roles, but that doesn’t mean you have the final say.
“Why didn’t he realize that before?” wondered one of the Republicans close to Trump.
Daniel Lippman and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.