- Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a key member of the White House’s “shadow” coronavirus task force, on Thursday gave his first media briefing of the crisis.
- Kushner drew a line between the emergency equipment stockpiled by the federal government and the equipment for use by individual states.
- “You also have a situation where in some states FEMA allocated ventilators to the states, and you have instances where in cities they’re running out but the state still has a stockpile. And the notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile — it’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use,” Kushner said.
- Democrats criticized Kushner’s remarks, saying that equipment purchased by federal agencies is for the use of all American taxpayers.
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The White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said on Thursday that state officials couldn’t necessarily count on using “our” federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment during the coronavirus crisis, prompting widespread confusion and criticism.
It was Kushner’s first time fielding questions from journalists since reports emerged that he had set up his own “shadow” White House coronavirus team tasked with obtaining key supplies for hospitals and rolling out testing for the disease.
When asked about his work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure states can obtain vital equipment, Kushner said that state officials should not assume that federal stockpiles of equipment are for states’ use.
“You also have a situation where in some states FEMA allocated ventilators to the states, and you have instances where in cities they’re running out but the state still has a stockpile. And the notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile — it’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use,” Kushner said.
“So we’re encouraging the states to make sure that they’re assessing the needs, they’re getting the data from their local situations, and then trying to fill it with the supplies that we’ve given them,” he said.
The Trump administration has faced mounting criticism for its failure to ensure that hospitals have enough ventilators, protective masks and clothing, and testing equipment, as the number of infections in the US has soared to the highest in the world.
Kushner’s remarks seemed to contradict the purpose of the Strategic National Stockpile operated by the Department of Health and Human Services. Earlier Friday, its website described the stockpile as “the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.”
“When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency,” the website said.
Some critics were baffled at the line Kushner seemed to draw between equipment for federal use and equipment for state use.
“Dear Jared Kushner of the @realDonaldTrump Administration: We are the UNITED STATES of America. The federal stockpile is reserved for all Americans living in our states, not just federal employees. Get it?” Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California tweeted.
Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, took issue with Kushner’s use of the word “our,” describing it as “shocking” and “so wrong.”
“Mr. Kushner and the federal government work for US, citizens of the United States, who also happen to live in states,” McFaul tweeted. “These masks in the stockpile are OUR masks, paid for by OUR money.”
—Michael McFaul (@McFaul) April 3, 2020
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on Kushner’s remarks and for comment on the criticism leveled against him.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Kushner had staffed his team with allies and figures from the private sector; one unnamed senior official likened it to a “frat party.”
The report said that members of Kushner’s team had clashed with government officials as they seek to streamline processes to ensure equipment is received by frontline health workers.
Kushner explained his role on Thursday.
“The president wanted us to make sure we think outside the box, make sure we’re finding all the best thinkers in the country, making sure we’re getting all the best ideas and that we’re doing everything possible to make sure that we can keep Americans safe,” he said.