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As Kanye goes to the White House, both sides credit Kushner for prison reform

As Kanye goes to the White House, both sides credit Kushner for prison reform
© Greg Nash

In May Politico reported on the potential of “a rare bipartisan achievement during a hotly contested election year … a major coup for a group of unlikely allies that has brought together pols on opposite ends of the spectrum.”

It was an unlikely group indeed — senior presidential adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerMueller assembles team of cooperators in Russian probe Secret Service: Agent who blocked reporter questioning Kushner reacted to ‘abrupt movement’ Kushner and Saudi crown prince communicated informally on WhatsApp: report MORE; CNN host and former Obama administration official Van Jones; Reps. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsAs Kanye goes to the White House, both sides credit Kushner for prison reform House Republicans confident there won't be a government shutdown Lawmakers move to award posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to Aretha Franklin MORE (R-Ga.) and Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesAs Kanye goes to the White House, both sides credit Kushner for prison reform Bustos announces bid to become fourth-ranking Dem next year Why US creators urgently need Congress to support the CASE Act MORE (D-N.Y) — all advocating for bipartisan prison reform legislation known as the First Step Act.

Today, rapper Kanye West joins the group of unlikely allies as he heads to the White House to meet with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE and Kushner to help advance prison reform.

When the First Step Act advanced through the House Judiciary Committee, the prospect of passing the House and Senate and landing on President Trump’s desk remained far from certain.  Only twice in recent history had significant prison reform legislation passed through Congress.

But the impossible is on the verge of possible, in large part because of Jared Kushner.

“Jared has been dogged and effective in helping the administration find a positive path forward to fix our justice system,” Van Jones told me. “His dedication to this cause is extraordinary.”

Indeed, Kushner, alongside Reps. Collins and Jeffries, worked tirelessly on the First Step Act, all through the congressional recess. Ahead of the House vote, Kushner met with the House Republican Freedom Caucus, cementing the support of Republicans; not a single GOP House member voted against the measure. Despite an uphill battle, the First Step Act passed the House, 360-to-59.

Kushner “has been a courageous bridge-builder and a pragmatic problem-solver,” Jones told me. “His relentless single-mindedness has earned the respect of his supporters and detractors. There have been moments when Jared has single-handedly kept the idea of prison reform alive, through his dedication and willpower alone.”

Republican Rep. Collins agrees, “Prison reform brings people together on behalf of other people — moving this forward takes a keen understanding of policy and a deep well of empathy, both of which Jared demonstrates daily.”

And Collins’ Democratic counterpart, Rep. Jeffries, similarly notes that “Mass incarceration is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. It’s an American problem.” And he believes Kushner “is authentically committed to achieving meaningful prison reform that will transform the lives of incarcerated individuals.” He describes him as “a committed partner in our successful push to pass the First Step Act in the House.”

The First Step Act currently awaits a vote in the Senate, and the hard work of Kushner, Congressmen Collins and Jeffries and others is paying off. “Without Jared’s perseverance, I doubt we’d be one Senate vote away from sending a historic reform package to a president who wants to sign it on behalf of families and communities everywhere,” Collins says.  “I’m grateful for his partnership, and I’m hardly alone.”

The story of how bipartisan prison reform came about sheds light on a recurrent theme: the role Kushner plays in building the unlikeliest of bridges in a highly charged, partisan Washington landscape.

Consider the recently renegotiated NAFTA agreement — the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Dozens of meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, 50 meetings with Mexico’s foreign minister, and whole days spent with the U.S. trade representative is what it took for Kushner to craft the biggest trade deal in U.S. history.

For a while the prospect of a NAFTA renegotiation seemed improbable. As the deadline approached, the headlines reflected the dimming fate of a deal: Nafta Deal Unlikely This Week, Raising Tariff Fears, NAFTA could soon morph into “HALFTA” unless Canada comes on board or U.S. all but certain to miss weekend deadline to include Canada in three-way NAFTA deal.

But Kushner did what he quietly does best: build bridges, break impasses and move forward the seemingly immovable.  

“The deal fell apart more than once. And in every occasion it was one person that always found a way to put it back together: Jared Kushner,” Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told Reuters.  

Friday morning, Sept. 28, was one such moment, when Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, called Kushner in an attempt to salvage the deal. According to CNN, “[S]ources credited the phone call from Trudeau’s advisers to Kushner with setting in motion a final effort at the highest levels on both sides to clear the remaining hurdles and salvage the deal.” Feverish negotiations persisted through the weekend, with Kushner  foregoing his plans to celebrate the Jewish festival of Sukkot with his family.

Fittingly, in a Rose Garden press conference, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer declared: “I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, this agreement would not have happened if it wasn’t for Jared.”

From prison reform to NAFTA renegotiation, the impossible has been made possible, in large part thanks to Kushner.

Kayleigh McEnany is the national spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. Prior to joining the RNC, McEnany was a CNN political commentator. She earned her law degree from Harvard Law School and BSFS from Georgetown's School of Foreign Service.