Jared Kushner boasted in mid-April that President Trump was “back in charge” of the country’s response to COVID-19, “not the doctors,” and portrayed the pandemic as having entered the “comeback phase.”
“There were three phases. There’s the panic phase, the pain phase and then the comeback phase,” Kushner is heard saying to author Bob Woodward, in a recording of an interview that was obtained by CNN. Kushner added: “That doesn’t mean there’s not still a lot of pain and there won’t be pain for a while, but that basically was, we’ve now put out rules to get back to work. Trump’s now back in charge. It’s not the doctors. They’ve kind of — we have, like, a negotiated settlement.”
Woodward interviewed Kushner for his book “Rage” at the urging of Trump, who called his son-in-law and senior adviser “one smart cookie.” As of April 18, the day the interview took place, more than 40,000 Americans had died of COVID-19. Yet Trump had, since mid-March, already begun calling for states to quickly lift coronavirus restrictions even though the experts working for his administration were advising the opposite.
“It was almost like Trump getting the country back from the doctors. Right?” Kushner told Woodward. “In the sense that what he now did was, you know, he’s going to own the open-up.”
Health experts say that loosening social distancing measures almost certainly resulted in a so-called second wave of the virus that hit Southern states in the late spring and early summer.
In his own interviews with Woodward for “Rage,” Trump admitted he played down the seriousness of the virus to the public so as not to instill panic. But the messaging coming out of the White House gave many Americans the impression that COVID-19 was no more of a threat than the common flu and that wearing face masks did little to slow the spread of the virus. To hear Kushner tell it in mid-April, the president believed his approach to the pandemic would prove popular with the voting public.
“But the president also is very smart politically with the way he did that fight with the governors to basically say, no, no, no, no, I own the opening,” Kushner told Woodward. “Because again, the opening is going to be very popular. People want this country open. But if it opens in the wrong way, the question will be, did the governors follow the guidelines we set out or not?”
As a third wave of the pandemic has swept over the Midwest, setting daily records for new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. over the past two weeks, Trump’s prospects for reelection have continued to dim and Kushner’s assessments stand in stark contrast to what has actually transpired during the ongoing pandemic.
Although overoptimism characterized the administration’s COVID-19 response from the start, and Trump as recently as this week insisted the nation is turning the corner in the fight against the pandemic, Kushner maintained to Woodward that the president was the realist in the room.
“The most dangerous people around the president are overconfident idiots,” Kushner said.
At the core of his remarks to Woodward, Kushner, like Trump, asserted that the administration’s messaging, not that of actual health experts, needed to guide the nation’s behavior.
“So if you basically say this is coming back in the fall, don’t gear up, then people won’t rehire, people will stay unemployed,” Kushner is heard telling Woodward in another interview on May 8. “And if you’re planning for the worst-case scenario, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the things that the president’s great at is he’s a cheerleader. He’s trying to make people feel good about the outcome.”
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