President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been inexplicably given a leading role in the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that has left 337,000 infected and killed more than 10,000 Americans. And now health officials apparently see him as one more problem on their plates.
Speaking to The Washington Post, health officials on the White House coronavirus task force have complained of being sidetracked by Mr Kushner’s “ill-conceived” requests.
According to the reports, Mr Kushner was running his own team of coronavirus responders and would send ideas to the White House task force that distracted the members more than they helped.
One of the ideas included setting up testing sites in Walmart parking lots across the US and using a Google-built website to centralize contact and location information for each of the test sites. Another utilised Oracle software to monitor the use of anti-malarial drugs against coronavirus. Clinical trials to determine the drug’s efficacy have not been carried out, but both Mr Trump and Oracle chairman Larry Ellison – a friend and financial supporter of Mr Trump – support the idea.
“Right now [Dr. Anthony Fauci] is trying to roll out the most ambitious clinical trial ever implemented [in search of a vaccine] And yet, the nation’s top health officials are getting calls from the White House or Jared’s team asking, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do this with Oracle?’” one of the former health officials speaking to the Washington Post said.
Mr Kushner was widely criticised after giving a confusing press briefing last week responding to criticisms that the allocation of medical equipment from the federal government to state authorities has been both inefficient in execution and insufficient in scope.
“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” Mr Kusner said. “It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.”
Reporters questioned what that meant, as the United States is made up of states and the federal government’s resources are meant to be used in service of the citizens of the US, most of whom live in states.
John Oliver, host of “Last Week Tonight” on HBO, summarised the collective bafflement caused by Mr Kushner’s conference.
“It’s not your stockpile, it’s a national stockpile for use by the United States, you f****** moron,” he said, calling Mr Kusner someone who “looks less like someone who could handle a global pandemic and more like an alt-right Pinocchio.”
Mr Oliver pointed out that Mr Kushner formerly lived in New York City, the current epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the US and one of the locations in most dire need of medical supplies and federal assistance.
“And some parts of [the United States] badly need supplies right now, like the city that you used to live in, and which I pray you never show your polished f****** face again,” he said.
When Mr Trump was pressed by CBS News’ Weija Jiang to explain what Mr Kushner meant when he said the federal stockpile wasn’t for state use, he berated her for her ‘nasty tone’ and claimed it was a ‘gotcha’ question before offering his own jumbled response that failed to answer Ms Jiang’s question.
“It’s such a basic simple question and you try and make it sound so bad, you ought to be, you ought to be ashamed, you know what? You ought to be ashamed,” he said. “You said ‘our’ and ‘our’ means for the country, and ‘our’ means for the states because the states are a part of the country, don’t make it sound bad.”
Following the tantrum, Mr Trump was pressed by another reporter to answer Ms Jiang’s question. He blamed individual state governments for not being prepared for the pandemic – despite the federal government waiting until mid-March to begin its response – and said that the federal stockpile was needed for the “federal government” and that the states “have to have for themselves”, further muddling whether or not the Trump administration’s policy is to release federal stockpile items to the states or not.
The National Strategic Stockpile was created in 1998 and was described in 2001 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as being designed “to supplement and re-supply state and local publish health agencies in the event of a biological or chemical terrorism incident anywhere, at any time within the US or its territories.”