Ben Carson, Trump’s pick for HUD Secretary, refused to say that Trump and his family wouldn’t profit from HUD.
In a tough line of questioning from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Carson said he was going to let “morals” dictate his decision making process not favors, but that didn’t exactly eliminate the opportunity for Trump to benefit.
“Can you just assure us that one dollar with go to benefit the president elect or his family?” Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) began her line of questioning with Carson.
Warren– who has been a leading voice on Capitol Hill to force President-elect Trump to divest from his business interests– was making a point.
“It will not be my intention,” Carson tried to respond. “I will manage things in a way that benefits the American people.That is going to be the goal.”
Carson, however, said that if the program is good enough, he wouldn’t mind that Trump’s family was profiting.
“If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that is working for millions of people and it turns out that someone that you targeted is going to gain $10 from it, am I going to say ‘no the rest of you Americans can’t have it? ‘ No, I think probably logic and common sense would be the best way,” Carson said.
Update at 12:30 p.m.: After a second round of questions from Sen. Brown and Sen. Cortez Masto, the hearing to confirm Carson ended rather abruptly.
Brown wanted to know how Carson could avert the appearance of a conflict of interest if any of Trump’s family profited from HUD.
“What I would hope would happen with this committee is we could come up with a suggestion that would be acceptable,” Carson said.
Brown suggested that Carson needed to set up a mechanism and process to report on any issues that arise at public housing properties with ties to Trump.
“I would be more than delighted to discuss that,” Carson said as he promised to work with Brown to work for a process to report any conflicts of interest.
Update at 12:14 p.m.: Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) really starts her line of questioning what everyone was thinking. “There were a lot of people who kind of scratched their heads when you were nominated,” she said.
She noted, however, that Carson’s personal story made her think Carson might be a good even if surprising choice.
As a moderate and red state Democrat, Heitkamp’s position may give us some insight into how some Democrats may vote on Carson.
Update at 11:59 a.m.: Freshman Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) opened Thursday with concerns of Carson’s past comments that he did not want people “vegetating” year after year in public housing. Masto called those concerns “troubling.”
Carson said that he believes Trump will “fix the economy” so that “people have a lot more options.”
Update at 11:51 a.m.: It was rapid fire questioning from Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) with Tillis wanting to hear commitments from Carson that he would cut programs at HUD if they aren’t working.
“Do you think there are any sacred cows at HUD?” Tillis asked.
“I haven’t found any yet,” Carson said.
Update at 11:32 a.m. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) is using his time in this hearing to try and get Carson to promise to continue the Obama administration’s efforts task force to study racial inequality in Baltimore. Van Hollen also grilled Carson on whether he would abolish Medicare or Medicaid.
“Are you going to advocate within the government abolishing Medicare and Medicaid,” Van Hollen asked?
Carson said “if you are not going to replace it, you are not going to get rid of it.” Carson would not get pinned down on what he would try to replace those programs with,
Update at 10:52 a.m.: Maybe it is a side effect of the rules change or maybe just in the interest of saving time, but Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told Carson he had six questions for him, but that he didn’t need them answered at the hearing. Instead, Shelby told Carson that Carson could answer the detailed housing questions once he was already HUD secretary “when things settle down.”
The truth is that there is very little stopping Carson from getting this job to lead HUD. Republicans only need a simple majority to confirm Carson because a rules change Democrats led in 2013. It still says a lot that senators aren’t using their opportunity at this hearing to grill Carson even if Shelby and Carson are both Republicans.
“I appreciate the precedent you have just set,” Chairman Crapo joked when Shelby finished up.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was up next. He noted he wouldn’t be passing on his opportunity to get Carson on the record at his confirmation hearing.
Update at 10:47 a.m.: In his series of questions, Brown really wanted to drill down what Carson thought about protecting the LGBT community from housing discrimination.
A social conservative, Carson has said in the past that gay marriage could lead to polygamy, but on Thursday he insisted that he would not discriminate at HUD.
“if confirmed in this position. Of course I would enforce all of the laws of the land.” Carson said.
What Carson would not say, however, was that he supported the minimum wage or a new overtime rule.
Update at 10:39: Carson is really making a play at this hearing to convince Democrats that he is not just anti-government. In the first round of questions from Crapo, Carson said “of course I feel very strongly that we should do everything we can not only because we are compassionate, but also because we are smart.”
The other fascinating nugget her is that Carson clearly recognizes that some doubt his qualifications. He said over and over again that he plans to spend a lot of time with the people who have “boots on the ground” in the housing sector. It appears to be an attempt to fight back.
Update at 10:24 a.m.: Carson’s up. Today, it’s clear that Carson’s personal story is going to be the cornerstone of this hearing, and it is going to be what Republicans point out again and again to try to convince the public that Carson is ready to lead the nation’s Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Carson told the story of his parents’ divorce, his mother’s fall into poverty and then her insistence throughout Carson’s childhood that he read, become educated and get ahead.
“Thanks to her, I am here today,” Carson noted.
Carson strayed significantly from his prepared remarks. He told stories about his own life when he thought he may not make it past the age of 25 because of the neighborhood he was living in, he told about the moment when he decided to invest in himself and start taking school seriously. He said he went from the bottom of the class to the top in a year.
Then, Carson seemed to address Democrats’ concerns that Carson doesn’t respect government or the agency he is about to lead.
“The government can play a very important role,” Carson said.
“What has happened to often is that people who seemingly mean well have promoted things that do not encourage the development of …talent in people,” Carson said.
Carson said that HUD has the ability to “be so much more” than simply housing people.
“I do believe that government is extraordinarily important,” Carson said.
To learn about what is working and what is not, Carson told the Senate Banking Committee he planned to go on “a listening tour” across the country as well as inside the agency.
Update at 10:19 a.m.: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is introducing Carson this morning. Remember, these two were running against each other for President just two years ago. Rubio noted, again, Carson’s many medical accolades and accomplishments.
Rubio, however, took another tact. He noted that at HUD, there has been a “lack of accountability” at HUD. And, Rubio said “Hud needs a leader who knows how to overcome tough obstacles.” “That, is what Ben Carson has done his entire life.”
“Hud is not just about providing people a place to live. At its core. HUD is about the American dream,” Rubio said.
Rubio said that Carson didn’t learn about housing inequality from books or magazines or PBS documentaries. Rubio said despite concerns that Carson is unexperienced in the government sector, Carson has something else; he lived in poverty and rose out of it.
Update at 10:12 a.m.: Now, ranking member Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is up and he is making sure that everyone knows that not everyone will be as lucky as Carson was to get educated, escape poverty and rise to national prominence.
“Dr. Carson has repeatedly commented that government assistance programs are harmful. For example. he wrote that in the wake of the civil rights movement: ‘Racist people from both parties adopted a paternalistic attitude toward African-Americans and enacted federal and state programs designed to take care of people who couldn’t take care of themselves,'” Brown noted.
Brown insisted that Carson needed to clarify his positions on what role the federal government had in helping lift individuals out of poverty. But, Brown noted that Carson has continually sought to cut government spending.
“Dr. Carson has suggested that all assistance programs should be cut by 10 percent a year until the budget is balanced – without exception and without regard to whether the population served is vulnerable,” Brown said.
Update at 10:05 a.m.: Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) opens the hearing this morning with a statement highlighting Carson’s myriad of medical accomplishments. Carson gained national fame, of course, by separating conjoined twins.
He has “unique valuable assets for leading an agency like HUD,” Crapo said.
While many members have expressed concern that Carson has no government experience, Crapo highlighted Carson’s presidential bid this last cycle and Carson’s desire to hold a “listening tour” across the country as reasons why Carson has a set of experiences that makes him qualified to lead a $49 billion housing agency.
Update at 9:59 a.m.: Carson, surrounded by photographers, took his seat for what is expected to be a long day.
Update at 9:56 a.m.: We’ve got a sneak peak of Carson’s testimony this morning before the hearing got underway and here’s what we know. The opening statement focused on Carson’s upbringing in inner city Detroit. “I understand housing insecurity. We were forced to move from Detroit to Boston to live with relatives because she couldn’t afford our house. However, thanks to her diligence, were able to move back into that house in Detroit six years later. “
Ben Carson will go before the Senate’s Banking Committee Thursday as he vies to become the country’s next secretary for Housing and Urban Development.
Carson’s lack of experience in the Housing sector, however, combined with his once public rejection of any cabinet position at all will make Thursday’s hearing a peculiar affair as Democrats are expected to grill him on why he wants the job now.
Carson– a world renowned neurosurgeon who grew up impoverished in Detroit and Boston– has no government or elected experience at all even as Republican colleagues have argued that Carson’s personal background will give him insight into managing the country’s urban housing crisis.
Democrats aren’t sold.
Already, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to Carson asking him to explain exactly why he’s qualified for the job.
“Although you have many accomplishments in the medical field, there is relatively little in the public record that reveals how you would further HUD’s mission to ‘create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all,” Warren wrote in her letter she released on her website.
Carson’s role in the Trump cabinet is peculiar given the history. While Carson eventually became a Trump surrogate, early on the in the campaign, Trump mocked Carson for being soft spoken and called him a liar.
Concerns about Carson’s ability to lead a $49 billion federal agency as well as Carson’s past comments against public assistance have even led current HUD Secretary Julián Castro to speak out.
In an interview with NPR, Castro said that he feared the agency could slide “backward” under Trump’s direction.
“I’d be lying if I said that I’m not concerned about the possibility of going backward over the next four years,” Castro told NPR.