The Senate Banking Committee hearing for Ben Carson, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was a job interview for someone who did not want the job.
Carson, who in November reportedly felt like he wasn’t qualified to run a federal agency, has been heavily criticized for having zero qualifications whatsoever to run the agency tasked with crafting and implementing federal housing policy.
The sole exchange that really put Carson on the back foot had little to do with the position’s typical responsibilities but occurred when Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked Carson whether HUD money was going to end up in Trump’s pockets. “Can you assure me that not a single taxpayer dollar that you give out will financially benefit the President elect or his family?”
Carson waffled, then stuttered that “it would not be my intention to do anything that would benefit any American.” But ultimately refused to say: “Yes.”
This same issue came up a few times later on in the hearing. Specifically, Republican North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis praised Carson for his response, saying: “You know what I like most about your answer? You could not be pinned down to a yes or no answer.” Huh?
Finally, Sen. Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, pressed Carson on the conflict, noting that Trump had previously made at least one investment in subsidized housing, at Starrett City in Brooklyn, and ultimately got a commitment from the nominee to set up a process to report such conflicts to the committee.
It was a bit of a trick question in the first place, since no one knows where Trump’s money is, and Warren used it to promote her and other Senate Democrats’ efforts to get Trump to meaningfully separate himself from his business empire. He has not.
And in that sense, ultimately, the exchange is a sign of how Trump has effectively overloaded Washington’s capacity to effectively consider questions about the basic business of governance. The conflict between the developer-president and the department charged with grants and loans for housing is worrisome. But there we were talking about it in Carson’s hearing, rather than discussing evictions, the low-income housing tax credit, homelessness, public housing maintenance, the rental crisis, the Federal Housing Administration, or the homeownership rate.