Ben Carson, Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, refused to promise in his confirmation hearing Thursday that the president-elect or his family would not financially benefit at all from the billions of dollars he would be responsible for in grants and loans at the federal agency.
The former Republican presidential candidate and neurosurgeon, appearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, dodged a question from Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts when she noted the Trump family’s “significant business interests” and pressed Carson to “assure me that not a single taxpayer dollar you give will financially benefit the president-elect or his family.”
“The things that I do are driven by a sense of morals and values,” Carson responded. “I will absolutely not play favorites for anyone.”
Warren said she was not questioning Carson’s “good faith” and asked him to assure the committee again that Trump or his family would not financially benefit in any way from HUD grants or loans.
“It will not be my intention to benefit any American, any specific American,” Carson said. He continued: “I will manage things in a way that benefits the American people.”
“If there happens to be an extra good program that works for millions of people and it turns out that someone that you’re targeting is going to gain ten dollars from it, am I going to say no?” he asked, adding, “I think logic and common sense would be the best way.”
“The problem is that you can’t assure us,” Warren replied, going on to criticize Trump for his announcement Wednesday that he would not put all his assets in a blind trust. “The president elect is hiding his family’s business interests from you, from me, from the rest of America.”
Carson, who has no prior experience in government, was tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the department in December despite a renowned career as a neurosurgeon and little experience with housing policy. Should he be confirmed, Carson would lead a $47 billion agency responsible for providing affordable housing to millions of Americans.
Though Carson never personally lived in public housing, he said in his opening remarks that growing up in inner-city Detroit had given him an intimate understanding of housing insecurity and strengthened his desire to “make America’s neighborhoods stronger and more inclusive” in a holistic way.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, introduced Carson to the committee and invoked Carson’s well-documented journey from an impoverished childhood to success “at the highest levels of medicine” as proof of Carson’s effectiveness should he become HUD secretary.
“HUD needs a leader who knows how to overcome tough obstacles, someone when told, ‘you’ll never be able to do that,’ finds a way to do that,” Rubio said. “That is what Ben Carson has done his entire life.”
But some committee members indicated early in the hearing that they planned to probe what Carson’s past conservative proposals might mean for the department under his leadership.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, indicated in his remarks before Carson’s opening statement that he was concerned about Carson’s “seemingly contradictory views” on HUD’s role, noting Carson’s past proposal to slash assistance programs by 10 percent annually until the budget was balanced. Brown also raised concerns during the hearing about a 2015 Washington Times commentary Carson authored, criticizing an administration rule that would actively seek and counter housing bias against minorities.
Carson responded that he didn’t have “any problem with affirmative action or integration,” but that he disagreed with the use of HUD funds to have “people on high dictating... when they have no idea what’s going on in an area.”