Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner doubled down this week on his claim that his father-in-law President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been a "success" even as the number of deaths in the U.S. surpassed 170,000.
Kushner touted the administration's response as a "great success story" in April, predicting that "a lot of the country should be back to normal" by June and that the country would be "really rocking again" by July.
Instead, large swaths of the Sun Belt and other states saw new large outbreaks, setting records for daily infections as states which rushed to lift lockdowns were forced to roll back their reopenings. Many large cities are planning to keep schools closed this fall, and many colleges are planning for online-only learning after recent reopenings have quickly been followed by new outbreaks.
The tenuous economic condition has left tens of millions out of work, and Trump and Senate Republicans continue to block an extension of federal unemployment benefits which House Democrats approved in May. Tens of millions face eviction in the coming weeks and months, and countless businesses have permanently closed.
The U.S. has now reported 5.4 million infections and more than 170,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths, though both numbers are likely larger. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently described the outbreak in the U.S. as the worst in the world.
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer pressed Kushner on Monday about whether he still thought the response has been a success.
"Are 170,000 dead Americans — would you still suggest that this has been a success story?" Blitzer asked.
"Yes," Kushner replied. "Look, there's a lot of challenges. This has been a global pandemic — a lot of unprecedented challenges."
The comments came two weeks after Vanity Fair reported that Kushner, who led a "shadow" White House coronavirus task force filled with college friends and tech bros, spiked the administration's nationwide strategy because the pandemic was largely affecting "blue states."
"One thousand Americans dying every day?" Blitzer asked. "That's not a success, right?"
"One American, you know, dying every day is too much," Kushner said. "But if you look at where we were back in April, we had 2,500 Americans dying a day."
"I think President Trump has dealt with it in a very responsible way," Kushner said, even though Trump has repeatedly sought to downplay the pandemic while pushing back against efforts which would help contain it.
"You heard all these hysterical reports about doctors on the front lines not being able to get masks, not having enough ventilators. You had governors requesting a lot more ventilators than they needed," Kushner claimed. "And again, every patient in America that needed a ventilator got a ventilator. President Trump distributed them properly."
The "hysterical reports" came from frontline doctors and hospitals themselves, who reported alarming personal protective equipment shortages to the Health and Human Services inspector general. Though states ultimately did not run out of ventilators because mitigation efforts prevented the worst-case scenarios predicted by epidemiological models, Trump largely left the acquisition of life-saving supplies to individual states, forcing them to bid against one another for vital equipment.
Asked whether he had any regrets about the White House response, Kushner said "there's always things you could do differently."
"But again, this is an unprecedented challenge, and I think [Trump's] made a lot of right decisions," Kushner said. "We have 50 states, which means you have 50 CEOs, and his job is to work with all of them."
One of those "CEOs," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state was the hardest-hit in the early part of the pandemic, faulted the Trump administration for ignoring the threat of the virus coming from Europe while Trump was "fixated on China."
"The virus had been attacking us for months before they even knew it was here. We saw the failure of a government that tried to deny the virus, then tried to ignore it and then tried to politicize it," Cuomo said in a Monday speech at the Democratic National Convention. "The failed federal government that watched New York get ambushed by their negligence, and then watched New York suffer but all through it learned nothing."