White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (L) attends a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump several CEOs of major Banks discussing the coronavirus covid-19 response during a meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House, on March 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Jared Kushner advised Trump that "the media's coverage exaggerated the threat" of COVID-19: report

Kushner reportedly sought a "more expansive role for himself despite his lack of knowledge on the topic"


Igor Derysh
March 17, 2020 4:57PM (UTC)

White House adviser Jared Kushner advised his father-in-law, President Donald Trump, that the media had "exaggerated" the threat posed by COVID-19 after carving out a large role for himself on the administration's response team, according to The New York Times.

The outlet revealed that senior aides have engaged in "turf wars" amid the pandemic. Trump reportedly "refused repeated warnings to rely on experts," and Kushner "stepped in" after Vice President Mike Pence was tapped to lead the COVID-19 task force.

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Kushner told Trump that the "media's coverage exaggerated the threat," The Times reported. He sought to take on a "more expansive role for himself despite his lack of knowledge on the topic and without talking to most of the task force members or public health experts."

Trump repeatedly sought to downplay the threat, leading many conservatives to ignore public health warnings. But the president struck a different tone in a Monday press briefing, acknowledging that he told his family the situation was "bad."

"This is a very bad one," because of its "sort of record-setting type contagion," Trump said after falsely claiming that a vaccine would be available soon. The president also acknowledged that the economy "may be" heading toward a recession, echoing many economic forecasts.

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But even as he said the situation was trending downward and advised the public to avoid groups of more than 10 people, Trump echoed his previous statement that he does not "take responsibility at all" for his administration's widely-criticized response to the pandemic. 

Trump told a reporter that "normally" the buck stops with him — but not for the coronavirus.

"This has never been done before in this country," he said.

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Asked how he would grade his response, Trump replied, "I'd rate it a 10."

"I think we've done a great job," he added.

Shortly after the briefing, Trump fired off a tweet vowing to bail out industries hit hard by the outbreak such as airlines. It contained racist language referring to COVID-19 as the "Chinese Virus." The tweet came after a growing number of conservatives began to use terms like "Chines virus" and "Wuhan virus" despite pleas from the World Health Organization to avoid discrimination and stigmatization. Trump's tweet was widely condemned as "xenophobic" and "racist" in the U.S. and drew an angry response from China.

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"Some U.S. politicians have tried to stigmatize China … which China strongly condemns," a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said Monday, according to The Guardian. "We urge the U.S. to stop this despicable practice. We are very angry and strongly oppose [the tweet]."

Chinese state-run media accused Trump of trying to "pass the buck," according to the report.

The spat comes as the number of new cases in China continues to decline. Though the outbreak began in Wuhan, there are now more confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of mainland China than inside the country, CNN reported.

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More than 180,000 people have tested positive for the virus worldwide, and more than 7,000 have died. The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. climbed to more than 4,400, though medical experts believe there are thousands of additional cases that have gone undetected due to delays and restrictions on testing.

Some states and major cities like New York and Los Angeles have closed schools and shuttered restaurants and bars. Many states have banned large public gatherings while some regions like the Bay Area have gone further, ordering 6.7 million residents to "shelter in place." 

Several states have also delayed their primaries, which Trump said on Monday was "unnecessary." But the lack of a federal response has alarmed state officials.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo predicted Monday that the strategy of "flattening the curve" to slow the spread of the virus would not save the state's hospital system.

"I don't see a curve. I see a wave," he told CNN. "And the wave is going to break on the health care system, and I am telling you . . . it is going to be a tsunami."

Cuomo's warning came as epidemiologists at the Imperial College of London released a report warning that COVID-19 could kill as many as 2.2 million people without drastic federal action to stop the spread.

The report said policies aimed at slowing rather than stopping the virus would "still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over."

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The researchers told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that "eight to nine percent of people in the most vulnerable age group, 80 and older, could die if infected," The New York Times reported.

The Trump administration is expected to ask Congress for at least $850 billion for a payroll tax cut and other provisions the White House hopes will alleviate economic pain, according to Politico. Financial experts have warned that a payroll tax cut neglects many of the people who need financial assistance the most.

But Senate Republicans have yet to pass the emergency coronavirus relief bill approved by the House last week. The bill has not even made it to the Senate after Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, single-handedly blocked it from being sent over unless members return from recess and vote on the bill again over a technical fix.

But that bill only provides paid sick leave for 20% of workers, and lawmakers in both parties have called on Congress to approve more funding for people in need.

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, echoed former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang as he joined a growing chorus of economists and experts calling for the government to send $1,000 checks to every American.

"Every American adult should immediately receive $1,000 to help ensure families and workers can meet their short-term obligations and increase spending in the economy," he said. "Congress took similar action during the 2001 and 2008 recessions. While expansions of paid leave, unemployment insurance and SNAP benefits are crucial, the check will help fill the gaps for Americans that may not quickly navigate different government options."


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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