Dr. Ben Carson: HUD Confirmation Hearing ‘Fun’ as Warren Goes After Trump

Dr. Ben Carson sailed smoothly through his confirmation hearing to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Thursday, despite grandstanding from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who used it as an opportunity to criticize President-elect Trump’s recently announced trust arrangement.

“Thank you for what was actually kind of fun,” Carson told the committee when the hearing ended a little more than two hours after it began.

The retired neurosurgeon deftly answered questions about his qualifications for the job, stating that there is a “nexus between medicine and housing.”

People need safe homes and safe environments to thrive, he noted.

“I believe government is important,” Carson told the committee.

When it comes to running the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Carson said he will take “a more holistic approach” that focuses on “developing human capital.”

Several Democrats specifically praised him for taking that approach.

“You talked about a holistic view, which I agree with,” Sen. John Tester (D-MT) said.

“There’s a lot of people who scratch their head when you were nominated. What does he know about housing?” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), who faces a tough re-election campaign in 2018 in a state Donald Trump won easily, began.

“I thought about you as a neurosurgeon. You know, you just might be the right guy if you focus on why people are in poverty,” she added.

Carson told Heitkamp that he was concerned about “the human capital of people we are wasting.”

Throughout the questioning by the senators on the committee, Republicans articulated their support for his nomination and Democrats praised his “holistic approach” to the job for which he has been selected by President-elect Trump.

Three Democrats–Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. John Tester (D-MT), and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the ranking member–used the Carson confirmation hearing as an opportunity to criticize President-elect Trump’s trust arrangement announced Wednesday.

Warren was the first to address the issue, even though Brown, as the ranking member, had the first opportunity to question Carson.

“Before we get into the questions that I raised in my letter to you earlier, I want to get an answer to what I think should be a simple yes or no question,” she began.

“If you are confirmed to lead HUD, you’ll be responsible for issuing billions of dollars in grants and loans to help develop housing and provide a lot of housing related services. Now, housing development is an area in which President-elect Trump and his family have significant business interests,” she asserted.

“Can you assure me that not a single taxpayer dollar that you give out will financially benefit the President-elect or his family?” Warren asked.

But Carson refused to play Warren’s game.

“I can assure you that the things that I do are driven by a sense of morals and values and therefore I will absolutely not play favorites for anyone,” he responded.

Warren persisted.

“Let me stop right there. I’m actually trying to ask a more pointed question and it’s not about your good faith,” she said.

“My concern is whether or not, among the billions of dollars that you will be responsible for handing out in grants and loans, can you just assure us that not one dollar will go to benefit either the President-elect or his family?” the senior senator from Massachusetts asked.

Again, Carson avoided the trap.

“It will not be my intention to do anything to benefit any…any American. It’s for all Americans, everything that we do,” he said.

Warren pushed the issue again.

“Do I take that to mean that you may manage programs that will significantly benefit the President-elect?” she asked.

“You can take it to mean that I will manage things in a way that benefits the American people, that is going to be the goal,” Carson responded.

“If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that is working for millions of people and it turns out that someone that you’re targeting is going to gain, you know, ten dollars from it, am I going to say, ‘No, the rest of you Americans can’t have it’?” he asked rhetorically.

“I think logic and common sense probably would be the best way,” he told Warren.

Warren then launched into a short speech criticizing President-elect Trump and his trust arrangement:

The problem is that you can’t assure us that HUD money–not of ten dollar varieties but of multi-million dollar varieties–will not end up in the President-elect’s pockets. The reason you can’t assure us of that is because the President-elect is hiding his family’s business interests from you, from me, from the rest of America.  This just highlights the absurdity and the danger of the President-elect’s refusal to put his assets in a true blind trust.

He knows, he, the President-elect knows, what will benefit him and his family financially, but the public doesn’t, which means he can divert taxpayer money into his own pockets without anyone knowing about it.

The only way that the American people can know that the President is working in their best interests and not in his own is if he divests and puts his interests in a true blind trust.

Transferring his holdings to his children does nothing, as the head of the nonpartisan Ethics Committee said just last night.

Since the President-elect refuses to address this voluntarily, we need to pass the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act that I introduced with more than twenty of my colleagues, which would require him to do so.

In his questioning of Carson, Sen. Tester also hit on the issue of President-elect’s trust arrangement.

“The blind trust is so important because we elect people for the betterment of the country,” Tester said, adding that President-elect Trump needs to set up a blind trust “just like Jay Rockefeller did when he was elected to the U.S. Senate.”

In the second round of questioning, Sen. Brown asked Carson to “commit to report back to the committee on any property owned by the Trump organization” involved in HUD transactions.

“I would be more than delighted,” Carson responded.

Brown also asked Carson to “set up a process to identify those properites.”

“I will work with you to set up a process,” Carson said.

Several Democrats who questioned Carson thanked him for visiting with them in person prior to the hearing. Carson’s personal style and genuine interest in the welfare of low income Americans who currently obtain assistance from HUD seemed to resonate with the Democrats, with whom he already appears to have established personal relationships.

“I believe government is important. Its role is to promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Carson told the committee.

When it comes to running the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Carson said he will take “a more holistic approach” that focuses on “developing human capital.”

Carson said he intends to begin the job by gathering facts from the people who know the department best–those outside Washington who deal with its programs, and those inside Washington who have been administering the program for years.

“I want to go on a listening tour,” Carson said.

“Before I go on the road, I want to do that at HUD,” he added.

Carson’s calm demeanor and success at creating personal relationships with the Democrat senators on the committee during personal visits before the hearing were evident throughout the morning.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) asked for Carson’s commitment to help with lead poisoning problems in East Chicago, Indiana and opioid problems in Austin, Indiana associated with existing HUD projects, and the retired neurosurgeon readily offered it.

Sen. Tester and Carson had an exchange about 30-year mortgages.

“Do you believe it is possible to have a 30-year mortgage without a government guarantee?” Tester asked.

“Yes I believe it is possible,” Carson answered.

“How are you going to do it?” Tester asked.

“The private sector. But you can’t do it overnight,” Carson responded.

“Truthfully, I don’t see how it can happen,” Tester said. “But I’m willing to listen.”

Despite questions on a few points of policy from Democrats and the criticisms of President-elect Trump’s trust arrangements, the entire hearing was calm and friendly in tone.

“This is going to be a great committee to work with,” Carson said as the hearing closed.

With all 12 of the Republicans in the committee strongly supporting his candidacy, and several of the 11 Democrats likely to do so as well, Carson’s nomination is likely to move through the committee easily.

Given the Republican 52 vote majority in the full Senate, and the possibility that a number of Democrats will vote to confirm when the vote comes to the floor of the Senate, Carson appears well positioned to become the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.


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