President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will help shape the trillion-dollar infrastructure package that has become one of the centerpieces of the administration's economic agenda, a sign of his increasingly visible role in setting public policy.
The new Office of American Innovation, which Kushner leads, is among more than a dozen agencies involved in drafting the proposal to rebuild America's roads and bridges. A White House spokesperson said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are spearheading the effort. But Kushner's involvement is being closely watched — both inside and outside the administration — to see how his personal relationship with the president translates into the nuts and bolts of policy.
On its surface, infrastructure seems like a natural fit for Kushner. His nascent office is tasked with working with the business world's brightest minds to break logjams in the federal government. As a real estate developer himself, Kushner is likely to understand the frustration many companies have expressed over the permitting process. Trump has also highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships, and investors are hopeful that Kushner will prioritize projects that can generate reliable revenue.
At a minimum, Kushner is likely to push for an expansion of what might be housed under the umbrella of infrastructure. Trump has not outlined what his trillion-dollar proposal will include, and there is
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said last week the package would include not just roads and bridges, but also energy and water infrastructure as well. She also said it could possibly incorporate broadband and veterans' hospitals — two areas on which Kushner's office has said it intends to focus. Chao said the infrastructure proposal will be announced later this year.
"The infrastructure we all grew up with is aging," she said during a speech celebrating the department's 50th anniversary. "Technology — the great disruptor — is creating a new type of transport based on digital — not human— command and control."
But Kushner's involvement could also exacerbate the infighting inside the administration. National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro had initially sought to take the lead on the infrastructure proposal, according to a former official with close ties to the administration. Instead, Cohn's office is directing the effort, leading to a recent interagency meeting on the issue. Last month, Cohn hired DJ Gribbin, the former head of government affairs at Macquarie Capital, to serve as a special assistant for infrastructure policy.
One critical unanswered question about the president's plan is how it will be financed. During the campaign, Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — who both served as Trump advisers during the election — published a paper calling for $137 billion in tax credits to incentivize a trillion dollars in private investment.
But on Friday, Ross told CNBC that plan is just one piece of the puzzle. He said passing tax reform would be critical to getting infrastructure done — and left open the option of using money from repatriated corporate earnings to pay for at least part of it.
Ross also acknowledged that federal dollars may need to be committed as well. Infrastructure is one issue that the administration could use to build a bridge with Democrats, who have long advocated public financing to pay for it.
"This can be the win for the country," said Norm Anderson, president of CG/LA Infrastructure, a consulting firm. "It's got 'bipartisan' written all over it."