President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises -- such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction -- by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.
Jared Kushner has long been a curious choice to serve as a senior adviser to the president, but his apparent promotion within the White House is even tougher to explain.Donald Trump relied on his son-in-law as a confidant during last year's campaign, so it stood to reason that Kushner would have a role in the White House, but he's a 36-year-old lawyer with a background running his father's real estate business. Kushner's background in government and/or politics is effectively non-existent, and there have long been questions about whether his job is at odds with existing anti-nepotism laws.But in a striking new piece, the Washington Post reports that Kushner's power and portfolio are poised to expand.
There was a point, early on in the Obama presidency, in which Republicans feigned apoplexy about so-called "czars." The Democratic president appointed a series of officials to tackle issue-specific challenges, which GOP lawmakers considered outrageous. As the Republican line went, these people were accountable only to Obama, not the public or their representatives, and the nature of their responsibilities were deemed an abuse of policymaking process.Now, however, Donald Trump wants his inexperienced son-in-law to oversee "a SWAT team of strategic consultants" to start making policy outside the existing legislative and regulatory framework, answering only to Trump.I'm starting to think Republican whining about Obama-era "czars" and "tyranny" wasn't wholly on the level.But that's really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to identifying problems with this new Office of American Innovation. Note, for example, that the president already has an Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which could presumably tackle many of the same kinds of tasks, but Trump hasn't appointed anyone to lead the office.Indeed, if the White House wants to have more success implementing the president's agenda, officials in the West Wing should probably consider filling empty offices throughout the executive branch, not creating new offices that aren't necessary.What's more, Kushner told the Washington Post yesterday, in reference to the office he'll apparently lead, "The government should be run like a great American company." Anyone who actually believes this nearly always fails to understand why the two are very different, which in turn creates regrettable results.But perhaps most important is the fact that Trump seems to be positioning his 36-year-old son-in-law as a sort of Shadow Vice President. Kushner was already playing the role of trusted White House consigliere, while also playing the role of diplomat and adviser on international affairs.Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) recently defended Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's role in the administration by saying he "talks all the time to Jared" -- as if this were somehow proof of real influence in the White House. Soon after, a State Department official told The Atlantic that Trump insiders are ignoring the department because "they think Jared can do everything."Now, Kushner, just two months into his career in public service, will add control over the White House Office of American Innovation to his expansive to-do list.My suspicion is that Trump, increasingly paranoid and frustrated, is tightening his circle of trust, which in turn limits the number of loyalists who'll have real authority in the administration. But the truth is, no White House can expect to succeed if the president's inexperienced son-in-law has a portfolio that includes domestic and foreign policy.