But Jason Miller, the former Trump-campaign communications director who’s hosting his own pandemic podcast with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, told me he thinks Biden is lucky to have Klain. “He’s a substantial player and he’s well respected, even if we’re coming at things from a different point of view.” To Miller, Klain has been providing guidance when Biden hasn’t been able to. “Klain is the one who has worked in the pandemic space and who’s viewed as being a steady policy hand. He’s trying to do everything he can do.” Although Miller thinks Biden is lucky to have Klain around, he also thinks this is a case of the adviser accentuating what he says are the candidate’s own shortcomings. “Ron Klain isn’t on the ballot running for president. Joe Biden is.”
Like the experienced aide that he is, Klain did his best to keep pulling our conversation back to the candidate, not himself. When I said that the pandemic seems to accentuate Biden’s core pitch for a return to normalcy—because who wouldn’t, at this point, be ready to turn back the clock to a time before face masks and constant panic?—Klain came back at me with one of the campaign’s favorite talking points: No, Biden has always been focused on building a better future.
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He reminisced about his own time in the Situation Room with Anthony Fauci, but stayed relatively diplomatic about Kushner. “The track record of some of the things he’s done is questionable,” Klain, who has never met Kushner, observed. He argued that Americans should pay less attention to the president’s son-in-law as a person and more attention to what he said Kushner represents: political influence on the country’s pandemic response. To the extent that Kushner is in control, Klain said, “the question is, how does he see the task? How has he been empowered to do the task?” He added, “One thing I understood from day one was I didn’t try to tell Tony Fauci how to run clinical trials. I didn’t try to use it to play politics. I used my authority to try to coordinate the various agencies of the federal executive branch, and our work with state and local government and our work with the Hill, and our work with our foreign partners, in the effort in a very straightforward way.”
Kushner, in a rare television appearance, went on Fox News last week to say America is now on “the other side of the medical aspect of this,” and that the White House’s response is “a great success story.” He made new claims about testing capacity that didn’t match the facts. About 10,000 more Americans have died since then, on top of the 60,000 or so who had died already.
Biden has said he would have Klain in charge of the pandemic response—though no one knows what the pandemic, or the response, will look like in January. Long before the coronavirus, Klain was on the short list to be Biden’s White House chief of staff. Klain told me he wouldn’t speculate on what kind of role he’d want in Biden’s administration. There’s still a campaign to run, he said. A Biden spokesperson, meanwhile, declined to comment when asked why Klain hasn’t been put in an official role, either on the campaign overall or since the coronavirus arrived.