May 29, 2017

The shadow Secretary of State

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

While Rex Tillerson fills the official duties of America's top diplomat, Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law, has a parallel foreign policy role that was on full display during Trump's first foreign trip last week.

Why it matters: Kushner is viewed internally as the official most capable of gathering competing viewpoints and translating/presenting the policy to Trump. That's why Trump has put him in charge of issues as big as Middle East peace, and why he has served as point person on the U.S. relationship with China. But he's facing new scrutiny amid reports he tried to set up secret communications with the Russians (to discuss Syria strategy, according to the New York Times).

A White House official told Axios that Kushner was the one who helped plan and oversee the first part of the trip — to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Italy — with the theme of speaking to 3 of the world's biggest religions. During the Saudi Arabia stop, an arms deal Kushner reportedly helped negotiate was finalized.

What Kushner's been up to:

  • Helped negotiate the $100+ billion arms deal that was unveiled during Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia
  • Was closely involved in NAFTA discussions and calls from the presidents of Mexico and Canada to Trump (although the exact order of business between Trump and Trudeau is disputed, both versions of the story involve Jared Kushner).
  • Helped facilitate the February meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who he has known for years, and Trump.
  • Helped smooth relations between Trump and Mexico's President Enrique Nieto through his personal bond with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray. The two share mutual friends.
  • Had a hand in organizing Trump's meeting with China's President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago in April (Kushner has a good relationship with China's ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai).

What Tillerson's been up to:

  • Foreign trips to Belgium, China, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Turkey and Russia.
  • Meetings with foreign leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japan's President Shinzo Abe and South Korea's president and foreign minister

Bottom line: So far, Tillerson and Kushner seem to be working together smoothly. Tillerson lets Kushner take the lead on Mexico, the Middle East and even China, while Tillerson handles Russia, meets with other world leaders, participates in foreign councils and forums and gives the public briefings. Trump likes that Tillerson is discrete and doesn't elevate himself above the president, and Kushner has told associates he appreciates that there have been few leaks out of State.

Go deeper

Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins

Bernie Sanders rallies in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Center-left think tank Third Way urgently called on the Democratic front-runners of the 2020 presidential election to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders on the South Carolina debate stage on Feb. 25, in a memo provided to Axios' Mike Allen on Saturday.

What they're saying: "At the Las Vegas debate ... you declined to really challenge Senator Sanders. If you repeat this strategy at the South Carolina debate this week, you could hand the nomination to Sanders, likely dooming the Democratic Party — and the nation — to Trump and sweeping down-ballot Republican victories in November."

Situational awareness

Warren Buffett. Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Catch up on today's biggest news:

  1. Warren Buffett releases annual letter, reassures investors about future of Berkshire Hathaway
  2. Greyhound bars immigration sweeps
  3. U.S. military officially stops offensive operations in Afghanistan
  4. America's future looks a lot like Nevada
  5. Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins

America's future looks a lot like Nevada

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Today's Nevada caucus will foreshadow the future of American politics well beyond 2020.

Why it matters: The U.S. is in the midst of a demographic transformation, and the country's future looks a lot like Nevada's present. Today's results, in addition to shaping the 2020 race, will help tell us where politics is headed in a rapidly changing country.