Jared Kushner Is In The Spotlight. But Is He In the Tradition Of American Nepotism? Because of his many roles at the White House, President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner draws controversy. Previous presidents hired family members too, but those staffers had political experience.
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Jared Kushner Is In The Spotlight. But Is He In the Tradition Of American Nepotism?

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Jared Kushner Is In The Spotlight. But Is He In the Tradition Of American Nepotism?

Jared Kushner Is In The Spotlight. But Is He In the Tradition Of American Nepotism?

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

OK. Have you heard the joke about Trump's White House? Every day is take your kid to work day - boom. While that joke is actually making the rounds, it references a real legal issue which has come back into focus because of presidential adviser Jared Kushner, who appeared last week before the Senate intelligence committee. Some critics say Kushner should lose his security clearance over his alleged Russian contacts. But few expect he will lose his job since he is, after all, married to the president's daughter. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: When Kushner got back to the White House after the Senate meeting, he spoke, briefly, with the press.

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JARED KUSHNER: My name is Jared Kushner. I am senior adviser to President Donald J. Trump.

OVERBY: He's also the father of three of President Trump's grandchildren. Matthew Dallek is a professor of political management at George Washington University. He says nepotism, the hiring of close relatives, has a long tradition in American politics.

MATTHEW DALLEK: I mean, look, we've never been a pure meritocracy or even close to one (laughter).

OVERBY: Dallek points to three nepotism cases in the White House itself in just the past 80 years. First, shortly before the U.S. entered World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt created an office of civilian defense. He put first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in charge of volunteer participation. One thing she started was a dance program for children, something the British had already done for children in bomb shelters.

But when Mrs. Roosevelt hired a friend to run it, Dallek says...

DALLEK: It became the first major political scandal after Pearl Harbor.

OVERBY: And soon Mrs. Roosevelt was out of a job. This didn't lead Congress to pass any anti-nepotism laws, but the next case did.

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EARL WARREN: Mr. President, at your request, I have the very great honor to administer the oath of office to the following members of your Cabinet...

OVERBY: In 1961, Chief Justice Earl Warren swore in the Cabinet of President John Kennedy, including Kennedy's younger brother.

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WARREN: ...Robert F. Kennedy, of Massachusetts, to be attorney general.

OVERBY: Robert Kennedy's appointment led to an anti-nepotism law in 1967. Jessica Levinson teaches political law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. She says the law targeted nepotism governmentwide.

JESSICA LEVINSON: To try and give the public some faith that the people who are being paid by them are the people who are best qualified for their jobs.

OVERBY: The third case of nepotism is from 1993. President Bill Clinton put his wife, Hillary, in charge of a task force on health care reform.

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BILL CLINTON: I think that in the coming months, the American people will learn, as the people of our state did, that we have a first lady of many talents.

OVERBY: And now President Trump has brought in both daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner as advisers. Kushner has big assignments, from overhauling the federal bureaucracy to finding a peace settlement in the Middle East. Trump praised him at a pre-inauguration party.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If you can't produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.

OVERBY: So while Trump is hardly the first president to turn to his family for talent, this is different. Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy and Hillary Clinton all knew politics and government from the inside. Jared and Ivanka arrived in the White House with no political experience. As Jessica Levinson notes...

LEVINSON: These are not people who have resumes - who could otherwise be hired for these jobs.

OVERBY: Still, the Justice Department has concluded Kushner is not covered by the nepotism law because the president can hire anyone he wants for his own White House staff.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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