Kushner makes first appearance at coronavirus briefing

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner on Thursday made his first appearance in the White House briefing room along with the coronavirus task force, outlining plans to use “innovative solutions” to help combat the pandemic.

Kushner, who is also President Trump’s son-in-law, is working closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on supply chain issues related to the coronavirus outbreak.

His presence at Thursday’s briefing demonstrates the outsized role he is playing in the administration’s effort to address the spread of COVID-19. Kushner’s portfolio in the White House has included a diverse array of issues, including the administration’s Middle East peace plan.

“This truly is a historic challenge. We have not seen something like this in a very long time, but I am confident that bringing innovative solutions to these hard problems, we will make progress,” Kushner told reporters.

The Trump administration has withstood growing pressure to do more to help hospitals across the country accumulate critical medical supplies amid shortages of equipment like protective masks and ventilators, particularly in the New York metro area, which has emerged as the epicenter of the domestic COVID-19 outbreak.

Kushner, who is said to have assumed the role roughly two weeks ago, said Thursday that the administration was being resourceful in finding unused medical equipment in the country and distributing it where it is needed.

Kushner also put the burden on states to request the amount of supplies they need from the national stockpile, asserting that some state officials don’t know what they need.

“Some governors you speak to or senators, and they don’t know what’s in their state,” Kushner said when asked by a reporter what it takes for a state to receive ventilators from the national stockpile. “You have to take inventory in your own state and you have to show that there’s a real need.”

He said Trump has been “very hands-on” with respect to supply chain issues, describing an earlier phone call he received from the president relaying concerns about shortages of supplies in the New York public hospital system. Kushner said he called the hospital’s director later to address his concerns about shortages in N95 masks. The federal government is now planning to send 200,000 N95 masks to New York public hospitals, Vice President Pence said.

“Earlier today, the president called [New York City] Mayor [Bill] de Blasio to inform him that we are going to send a month of supply to the New York public hospital system,” Kushner told reporters.

Kushner spoke optimistically about the government’s ability to address supply needs across the country, despite concerns about dangerous supply shortages as the domestic cases of COVID-19 exceed 230,000. The U.S. cases are expected to peak sometime in the next two weeks.  

“We’ve done things that the government has never done before quicker than they’ve ever done it before,” Kushner said.

“We recognize the challenges that America faces right now. We know what a lot of people on the frontlines are facing,” Kushner said. “Our goal is to make sure that we work as hard as we don’t let them down.”

Kushner spoke alongside Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who is leading FEMA’s supply chain task force.

Addressing questions from reporters, Kushner said that he was asked by Pence to assist the task force and talks to the vice president roughly five times daily, rejecting assertions he was running a “shadow task force” spurring confusion as to who is in charge.

Trump has at times cast doubt on the demand for medical equipment, saying last week he didn’t believe New York needed 30,000 ventilators after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said that the state did. Trump has suggested Sunday that hospitals have hoarded critical equipment, resulting in perceived shortages.

Trump, under increasing pressure, last week invoked the Defense Production Act in order to compel General Motors to ramp up production of ventilators and on Thursday said he would expand his use of the authority to help six additional companies produce the equipment. 

Tags Andrew Cuomo Coronavirus Donald Trump Jared Kushner Mike Pence

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