Senators quickly confirmed Dr. Ben Carson 58-41 Thursday as President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department, as Senate Democrats tire of delaying the president’s nominees and move on to other skirmishes.
Six Democrats joined 51 Republicans and Maine’s Independent Sen. Angus King to approve the nomination. Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson did not vote.
“I see each individual as human capital that can be developed to become part of the engine that drives our nation–or it not developed becomes part of the load,” said Carson to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee at the pediatric neurosurgeon’s Jan. 12 confirmation hearing. “We are the ones, who are tasked with helping to make a difference, so I do believe that government is extraordinarily important.”
Carson pledged to the committee that if confirmed, he would embark on a department-wide listening tour.
“Instead of just listening to the sage people of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I want to hear from the people with boots on the ground, who are administering programs, who are benefiting from programs. I want to see what actually works and what doesn’t work.”
When the president announced his Dec. 5 selection of Carson to lead HUD, he said, “Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities.”
Trump said he and Carson agree on ways to spark urban renewal and to ensure that cities participate in the economic revival. “Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a presidency representing all Americans. He is a tough competitor and never gives up.”
Carson was introduced to the committee by Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.). Rubio represents Carson’s home state, and the two men became close when they both running for the 2016 Republican nomination for president.
“As Secretary of HUD, Dr. Carson will encounter a department that is broken in many regards. It is a vast bureaucracy that reaches all corners of our country,” Rubio said to the committee when he introduced Carson.
Carson understands the challenge of redirecting HUD personnel and programs towards helping Americans thrive, he said.
“His most important work doesn’t take place here,” the senator said. “It takes place in the communities, where they have housing facilities and provide assistance to people.”
The senior Democrat on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown spoke in favor of Carson on the Senate floor Wednesday.
“His remarkable life story is well-known to millions of Americans and that it good,” Brown said. “But, he’s not the nominee I would have chosen to lead HUD. In, fact, he’s not the nominee that any president in my lifetime would have chosen to lead HUD.”
Carson’s life was turned into a 2009 movie “Gifted Hands” with Cuba Gooding Jr., playing the surgeon. His most famous single accomplishment was the 1998 surgery when he successfully separated 11-month-old twin boys joined at the head. The operation lasted more than 20 hours, and Carson led a team of more than 20 doctors and nurses to complete the task.
Brown, who holds one of the 23 Senate seats Democrats are defending in 2018, tried to walk the line. Carson’s climb from poverty in Detroit and Boston to become the world’s leading pediatric neurosurgeon and a department head of Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Medical School should be a story celebrated by Democrats. But, instead of being the poster child for left-wing policies, the African-American holder of more than 60 honorary degrees was a relentless critic of President Barack Obama, and he makes the case that his rise was despite Democratic policies–not as a result of Democratic policies.
The Ohio senator said Carson’s statements about these policies disturbed him, but Democrats were not ready to block Carson beyond forcing the Senate to exhaust the maximum 30 hours of debate called for in the Senate rules.
“My colleagues and I asked Dr. Carson direct questions about his views now that he’s the nominee for Secretary of HUD,” Brown said. “I’ll give Dr. Carson the benefit of the doubt. That’s why I am voting for him, because he made commitments to me in person, sitting in my office across the table.”
Unlike other confirmation votes, the Carson fight was no fight at all. The chamber was virtually empty as senators walked in to vote, then turned to leave the floor.
An example of the lack of passion was how two Democrats – Virginia’s Sen. Mark Warner and Washington’s Sen. Patty Murray – stood and chatted in the well of the chamber. Murray put her thumb down for “No”; Warner put his thumb up for “Yes,” but it had no effect on their conversation before they, too left the Senate floor.
Shortly after the Senate confirmed Carson, senators voted to start the 30-hour debate clock for former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s confirmation as Energy Department Secretary.
The vote on Perry is expected Friday at 1 p.m.