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Stumbling on trade with China, Trump turns to Jared Kushner (again)

At the start of Trump's presidency, Jared Kushner's comically expansive policy portfolio became a running joke. It's back with a vengeance.
Jared Kushner departs the White House with President Donald Trump on March 15. 
Jared Kushner departs the White House with President Donald Trump on March 15. 

Nearly two months ago, Donald Trump delivered a speech in which he touted his ability to do "great things." As proof, the president said, "Look at what we did yesterday with China."

The comments came about 24 hours after Trump told reporters, "So, we just made what, I guess, is one of the biggest deals that's been made in a long time, with China." The president went on to say, "[I]f you look at the deal, the deal is so incredible. The deal is a great deal."

In reality, there was no deal. Trump had already abandoned plans for a comprehensive trade agreement with Beijing, choosing instead to pursue a more modest "phase one" trade deal that he hoped would lead to additional progress. In October, the Republican bragged as if that initial "phase" was complete, but no such agreement was reached.

Indeed, Trump was forced to concede this week that the trade deal he said was finished in October may not come until after next year's U.S. elections.

It's against this backdrop that the American president is turning to a familiar figure to help with negotiations with Beijing. Reuters reported yesterday:

President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner has added another role to his long list of White House duties - U.S.-China trade negotiator - as Washington and Beijing try to reach an initial agreement to avoid new U.S. tariffs on Dec. 15.People familiar with the talks said Kushner ... has increased his direct involvement in the negotiations with China over the past two weeks.... A White House official confirmed Kushner's involvement, but declined to provide specific details on the influence he has had on the negotiations. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said Kushner has recently met with Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States.

This report comes just a week after Trump's young son-in-law also became the "de facto project manager" for constructing a border wall ahead of the president's re-election bid.

At the start of Trump's presidency, Kushner's comically expansive policy portfolio became a running joke. In time, as the White House team gradually expanded, the joke faded, though it's apparently made a startling comeback.

That said, the scope of the problem goes quite a bit further.

We can, for example, put aside the fact that the president's young son-in-law shouldn't have so many important policy challenges on his plate. We can also put aside the fact that Kushner has a limited background in this area, and there are more qualified officials who are better suited for the task.

What's harder to forget is this Washington Post report from last year on foreign officials who "privately discussed ways they can manipulate" Kushner, exploiting, among other things, his inexperience.

The article added, "Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was 'naive and being tricked' in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel."

One of the countries was ... wait for it ... China.

What's more, the New Yorker reported last year that Kushner had effectively blown off protocols while meeting with Chinese officials, including Cui Tiankai, whom Reuters reported yesterday is again speaking with Kushner about trade policy.

The New Yorker article added last year, "According to current and former officials briefed on U.S. intelligence about Chinese communications, Chinese officials said that Cui and Kushner, in meetings to prepare for the summit at Mar-a-Lago, discussed Kushner's business interests along with policy. Some intelligence officials became concerned that the Chinese government was seeking to use business inducements to influence Kushner's views."

Maybe someone else on Team Trump could take the lead on this one?