In many ways, Jared Kushner won’t be any worse off than prior presidential family members working in the White House. Sure, he won’t be privy to classified intelligence. He’ll be asked to leave the room when the topics turn top secret. If he tries to enter the Situation Room, a large person talking into his wrist will bar him.
But these limitations didn’t stop Webb Hayes (Rutherford B.’s chief of staff), John Eisenhower (aide-de-camp to and son of Ike), Alice Roosevelt (Teddy’s right-hand woman and eldest daughter) or Bobby Kennedy (so infamous for being JFK’s attorney general that a law was passed to keep it from happening again) from influential positions counseling presidents of the same surname.
Sixteen children of presidents officially worked in the White House, by the estimate of author Doug Wead in All the Presidents’ Children, and even more unofficially. James and Elliot Roosevelt were constantly at their father’s side after polio rendered him paraplegic, their strong arms, Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote, making it seem in public as if he were still able to walk. Daughter Anna moved into the White House in 1943 to fill the role of first lady, leaving Eleanor to turn her ceremonial role into a substantive one.
But in Kushner’s case, given his portfolio, his demotion to the kid’s table could prove fatal. Trump flouted the anti-nepotism rules like every other norm, whether giving up his business, releasing his tax returns, or accounting for the money he promised to charity.
Trump giving his daughter Ivanka and Kushner jobs in the West Wing was just another example of doing as he pleases with the swagger of a businessman from New York who isn’t going to make governing so much harder than it needs to be. Kushner was given authority to stick his fingers in every pie so that the wattage of any number of other experienced officials was seriously dimmed. Rex who? H.R. McMaster did what? Trump gave the crown jewel of our foreign policy to Kushner with a mandate to bring peace to the Middle East, as if what’s been lacking in the region all these years is for a fresh, untutored mind to take a stab at reconciling blood enemies.
While Trump’s disdain for his national-security team is not as toxic as his shaming of his attorney general, it’s more dangerous, as intercepts reveal Kushner has gone rogue with impunity, taking and making calls to and from foreign leaders, some of whom only want to deal with ingénue Kushner because he’s so “naïve” and “easily manipulated,” according to The Washington Post readout of intercepts.
Most of the other underwhelming family members who’ve failed spectacularly had no power bestowed on them but used their DNA to grab some. At the top of the list in recent years would be Donald Nixon (brother Dick tapped his phone after Don got a large loan from defense contractor Howard Hughes to save his failing burger business); Billy Carter (drank way too much of his eponymous beer and lobbied for Libya); Neil Bush (lucrative business deals, admitted encounters with escorts, and a sordid divorce); Roger Clinton (rock non-stardom after getting out of prison for dealing cocaine); both of Hillary Clinton’s brothers (importing hazelnuts from a former Soviet country and pocketing $200,000 for helping drug-dealer friends with presidential pardons).
It was only a matter of time before Chief of Staff John Kelly moved in to stop Jarvanka, with Kushner up first. From the moment he arrived, his main task was really to build a wall around the Oval Office. He blocked those with a hall pass from floating in and out, including, to their consternation, Kushner and Ivanka, a turn of events that must make them regret pushing out former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. In the hole after keeping Rob Porter on after domestic violence delayed his security clearance and with no margin for error when it comes to women’s issues, Trump gave Kelly total discretion. He happily grabbed it as a chance at redemption for his lying about the Porter fiasco, and because he finds Kushner and Ivanka dilettantes.
The White House insists that multiyear lapses in clearances happen all the time when, of course, they do not. The only thing Trump can do for Kushner now is to grant him a presidential waiver. It would be wrong, usually not an impediment to presidential action in this White House. But more significantly it could lead to Kelly’s resignation when there is no one willing to take such a perilous job.
It’s more likely to send Kushner and Ivanka the way of Hope Hicks, sooner rather than later. Their Capitol life is a comedown from the heady days when they moved to a white house on the hill in a leafy neighborhood close to their jobs in the other White House. They not only expected to enjoy the fruits of power and influence but to be rescued from the brink of bankruptcy on a flagship building on Fifth Avenue. It wasn’t working out that way even before the smackdown of Kushner. The strain on Ivanka showed this week when she scolded NBC’s Peter Alexander for asking an “inappropriate” question about her father’s alleged sexual misconduct in a whispery voice dripping with “Do you know who I am?” hauteur.
There have been few glittery evenings to be had, no dinners in the residence with movie stars or historians, the first White House in decades not to hold a state dinner in the first year. Dad eats cheeseburgers in front of the TV. Stepmom is often with Barron and her parents in a Washington suburb near his school. A big night is going to BLT Prime in the Trump Hotel with others in the bunker.
They always planned to stay a short time, a friend of the couple says, a pre-buttal, so that when they give up and leave, there will be nothing to see here.
FDR is reported to have said that one of the worst things in the world is being the child of a president. If only Trump read history, he might have saved his daughter and son-in-law from finding that out for themselves.