Jared Kushner is pushing to install an ally as director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, a move that would place his stamp on a little-known but influential office that shapes some of President Donald Trump’s biggest agenda items.
The front-runner to take the job is Brooke Rollins, an assistant to the president and former top aide to then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry who has worked closely with Kushner on his prison reform legislation.
While the appointment is not final, Rollins’ ascension at the DPC would give Kushner a foothold in an often unsung corner of the White House, which coordinates policy areas including education, transportation, housing, labor and health care. Over the past two years, the council has developed changes to the Affordable Care Act, crafted an executive order on welfare reform and played a key role in several legislative debates such as the farm bill, prison reform and an effort to rein in drug prices.
Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, has long eyed the policy council as a way to gain yet another platform inside the West Wing, said one Republican close to the White House. Kushner already oversees the prison reform work and the effort to broker peace in the Middle East, in addition to playing a key role in trade negotiations such as NAFTA. And he has successfully installed allies in other key policy positions, including Chris Liddell, now the deputy chief of staff for policy coordination.
“I think the perception outside may be that DPC is not that influential, but actually I think they’re enormously influential,” said Tevi Troy, who served as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy under President George W. Bush and is the author of three books on the presidency. “There’s all kinds of things happening in government that aren’t making headlines these days.”
The DPC will soon be without a leader, as its current director, Andrew Bremberg, has been nominated to become the next ambassador to the United Nations Mission in Geneva.
A White House official declined to comment on the internal deliberations regarding Bremberg’s replacement, except to say that no decisions are imminent since Bremberg has yet to have his Senate confirmation hearing for the ambassador post.
Other names on the shortlist to replace Bremberg include Lance Leggitt, current No. 2 and former chief of staff at the Health and Human Services Department; Ryan Streeter, director of domestic policy at the American Enterprise Institute; and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) — though Santorum told POLITICO he is not interested.
Rollins, Leggitt and Streeter did not respond to requests for comment.
Within the Trump White House, the Domestic Policy Council has always taken a backseat to the policy powerhouse, the National Economic Council. The successive heads of that group, Gary Cohn and now Larry Kudlow, have enjoyed much closer working relationships with the president and much higher profiles than Bremberg, who tends to avoid the spotlight and eschews TV appearances.
And on key moments, such as pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, or passing the Republican tax bill, it was NEC — and not DPC — staffers who worked to develop the underpinning policy.
As a longtime health policy expert, Bremberg did play a role in the Republicans’ failed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. But he also did not own that issue, said two former administration officials. Bremberg advised the White House on the strategy during that time, said one former administration official — and made some perceived errors, including fighting against regulatory changes to the Affordable Care Act when it seemed inevitable that was all that could happen.
The hottest policy issue under the purview of the Domestic Policy Council has been immigration, but senior adviser Stephen Miller has entirely co-opted that process and runs it independent of DPC staffers, said one former White House official.
Another former senior administration official best summed up the attitude inside the White House when asked about Bremberg’s DPC successor: “Does it matter?”
That calculus could, of course, change if DPC inherits a forceful leader.
One potential option for the council, which currently has around 15 staffers, involves splitting up its portfolios among existing White House staff, according to two Republicans close to the White House.
Under this approach, Miller would take over all immigration policy, formalizing a role he’s long played in this White House as Trump’s top immigration guru. Rollins could take over the remaining set of domestic issues, giving Kushner, by proxy, influence in yet another part of the West Wing.
Rollins is a policy expert in her own right and eminently qualified, argued one person familiar with her work. She ran the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank, for 15 years, growing its staff from three to nearly 100 people and its mandate from two issues to 30, including several central to the DPC — health care, education, criminal justice reform and energy, among others. She was also deputy general counsel for Gov. Perry and rose from that position to be his head of policy.
Over the remaining two years of Trump’s first term as president, the Domestic Policy Council will likely tackle efforts to bring down the high costs of college and health insurance, said a White House official — moves that would fit into Trump’s economic message of trying to bolster growth. If the first two years of the Trump presidency were about undoing or reversing much of President Barack Obama’s policy legacy, the latter half of the first term will be more forward-looking, the official added.
The Domestic Policy Council did not even exist as its own entity until President Bill Clinton split it off from the NEC during the 1990s, effectively creating two groups devoted to domestic policy.