Kushner Puts Himself in the Middle of the White House’s Chaotic Coronavirus Response

While senior FEMA officials, including Mr. Gaynor, the agency administrator, complain that Mr. Kushner’s team is disrupting their operations, they describe Mr. Kushner himself as helpful. He arrived at planning meetings in recent weeks prepared with data sets that FEMA officials did not think to ask for, including models for expanding the emergency response. Some expressed relief that Mr. Kushner’s arrival meant someone at the White House was finally in charge of operational activity.

Last week, according to two officials involved in the situation, Mr. Kushner was told that FEMA was finding medical equipment to buy overseas but could not get quick payment authority. Mr. Kushner, they said, canceled his meetings and went to FEMA headquarters, where he asked to have the official involved brought to him to explain the holdup.

Mr. Kushner then enlisted Russell T. Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and told Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, not to return to the White House until he figured it out, setting a noon deadline. By 11:30 a.m., according to the officials, Mr. Kushner was told it was resolved.

Mr. Kushner early on agreed with his father-in-law that the news media was hyping the coronavirus to attack the president, according to several officials. Although people close to him deny that he failed to take the virus seriously at first, Mr. Kushner shares the president’s view that governors are driving their residents into a panic by airing worst-case projections of medical needs.

In conversations with advisers to the president, many of whom were stunned by the remark, Mr. Kushner has stressed what he sees as his own abilities, saying that he’s figured out how to make the government effective.

Despite the views of staff members who see Mr. Kushner as a novice at government, Mr. Kushner still views himself as a person who can fix things. “I learned very early on that when you try to work around an existing government structure, it rarely works,” Mr. Kushner said in the interview. “You have to take the machinery that exists and empower it rather than recreate it.”

Peter Baker, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Noah Weiland reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York. Kitty Bennett contributed research.