WASHINGTON — In the last several months, Jared Kushner’s once-massive White House portfolio has shrunken, leaving his biggest responsibility to lead the administration’s efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, according to a series of reports over the weekend.
Kushner, who is both a senior adviser to US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, took on a plethora of projects upon assuming his official role after the inauguration last January, despite having no policy or diplomatic experience.
He was charged with not only trying to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, with the hope of eventually solidifying a groundbreaking accord, but also renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, overseeing the US government’s attempts to alleviate the nation’s opioid epidemic and establishing the Office of American Innovation, an internal group dedicated to reducing government bureaucracy.
Kushner, 36, and his wife Ivanka, who is Trump’s daughter, also had highly public roles and would often sit in on important meetings and take part in ensuing photo opportunities.
But the days when Kushner had a sprawling set of responsibilities and free rein to walk in and out of the Oval Office whenever he wanted are over, according to separate reports published in The New York Times and The Washington Post on Saturday.
These changes stem largely from John Kelly taking over as White House chief of staff from Reince Priebus in July, tasked with restoring order to a chaotic West Wing.
One of Kelly’s first tasks was to fit all of the White House staff into a chain of command. No longer could the president’s closest confidants, such as Kushner, walk into the Oval Office at random. All meetings have to be arranged through him.
“Jared works for me,” Kelly has told associates, The New York Times reported.
According to the reports, there is a newfound understanding in White House circles that Kushner’s fingerprints will not be as ubiquitous as once they were, and that he will harness his energies primarily to trying to strike a peace agreement that has bedeviled generations of presidents and their foreign policy teams.
“Jared’s portfolio is Israeli-Palestinian peace, and he respects what his lane is,” an official told The Washington Post.
Trump himself also alluded to that issue being Kushner’s main concentration in an email chain from Friday that the White House forwarded to The New York Times.
“Jared is working very hard on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and the last thing I would ever do is get in the way of that possibility,” he said. “Jared has been very effective since the earliest days of the campaign and the same is true today.”
A White House official, contacted by The Times of Israel, declined to comment on the reports.
Kushner has been publicly involved in the peace efforts, shuttling to the region three times in the past year to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. At the same time, special envoy Jason Greenblatt has been a near-constant presence on the ground as the administration tries to cobble together a plan to get the sides back to the negotiating table.
In July, Kushner admitted that a peace deal might not be possible, in a leaked conversation with congressional interns.
“So what do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know,” Kushner said in a recording obtained by Wired magazine. “We’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on.”
Kushner’s allies told both papers the departures of several of his in-house rivals, like Priebus and former White House chief strategist and nationalist firebrand Steve Bannon, liberated Kushner to lend more of his focus to peacemaking and the Office of American Innovation.
Even with those developments, however, the special investigation led by Robert Mueller into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives has occupied large portions of Kushner’s time and attention.
That now includes Mueller’s team looking into his role during the transition and his contacts with Israeli officials when the Obama administration allowed passage of a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s ongoing settlement construction in the West Bank, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Kushner has also been interviewed by congressional investigators who are scrutinizing Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
Kelly, for his part, said that he never considered “getting rid of Jared and Ivanka,” which had been reported from a number of different outlets.
Fending off rumors that were circulating this fall that they may try to head back to New York City, where they led comfortable lives, Kushner told The Washington Post that he and Ivanka plan to remain in the nation’s capital.
“We’re here to stay,” Kushner said, explaining that he and Ivanka made this decision in July. “At the current moment, we’re charging forward … My wife asked me the other day if we should be looking at new houses, so that’s a good sign.”
To explain his evolving White House role, Kushner alluded to a famous essay by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, in which he divides thinkers into two categories, drawing from the Greek poet Archilochus, who said, “The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
“During the campaign, I was more like a fox than a hedgehog. I was more of a generalist having to learn about and master a lot of skills quickly,” Kushner told The Washington Post.
“When I got to DC, I came with an understanding that the problems here are so complex — and if they were easy problems, they would have been fixed before — and so I became more like the hedgehog, where it was more taking issues you care deeply about, going deep and devoting the time, energy and resources to trying to drive change.”