Dr. Ben Carson today declined to say directly whether he can assure Americans that the Trump family would not benefit in any way from HUD incentives if he is confirmed as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
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“It will not be my intention to do anything to benefit any American particularly,” he said in response to pointed questioning from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a member of the Senate committee holding his confirmation hearing today. “It’s for all Americans, everything that we do.”
Warren responded, “I understand that. Do I take that to mean that you may manage programs that will significantly benefit the president-elect?“ referring to Donald Trump’s vast real estate holdings, which include a minor stake in a sprawling affordable housing development in Brooklyn, New York.
“You can take it to mean that I will manage things that will benefit the American people. That is going to be the goal,” Carson said.
“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 $10 from it, am I going to say, ‘No, the rest of you Americans can’t have it’? I think logic and common sense will probably be the best way.”
The former Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon today cited his childhood of “housing insecurity” during remarks on Capitol Hill, where he faced the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs for the confirmation hearing.
Carson, who often spoke on the campaign trail about growing up with an illiterate single mother in Detroit, referred to her in his opening statement amid some concerns about his qualifications to run the agency and commitment to its survival.
“She didn’t have any skills, basically a third-grade education, and we had no place to live,” he said. “She couldn’t afford the house, so we ended up moving to Boston, moving in with relatives. So I have actually in my life understood what housing insecurity was. And we were there in Boston for a couple of years.”
Carson later pledged to undertake a “listening tour” across the country to better understand the issues he would face as HUD secretary.
In response to a question from one senator about whether he would “advocate for a HUD budget,” Carson said he would push for funding the agency, adding that he would also put together “a world-class plan on housing” that he hopes lawmakers would support.
He addressed a question from Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who cited acute homelessness among veterans in his state and asked how Carson would help that community.
“Well, you know, people who go out and risk life and limb for us are people that should never want for any basic thing,” Carson responded. “We should be willing to do it. The VASH program — Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program — has been very successful in reducing homelessness, but we still have a lot more to go.
“And I think this is another area where we must take a holistic viewpoint, and what I have advocated is when a person joins the military, they be associated with a support group at that time.”
He said he envisions that such groups would follow vets through their entire military career, especially during combat, and after they are discharged.
“That way you discover early on what problems occur,” Carson said, “and are able to intervene at that point, which is considerably cheaper than waiting until we see the results of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Carson later told another senator he would protect the LGBT community from discrimination, prompted by her question on the issue.
In a Dec. 5 statement announcing his intention to pick Carson, Trump said, “Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities. We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities.”
The president-elect added of Carson, who sits on Trump’s transition team as a vice chairman, “Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a presidency representing all Americans.”
Carson, 65, said in that statement, “I am honored to accept the opportunity to serve our country in the Trump administration. I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly by strengthening communities that are most in need. We have much work to do in enhancing every aspect of our nation and ensuring that our nation’s housing needs are met.”
Carson has been holding mock hearings, comprehensive information sessions and meetings with members of Congress to get up to speed on the agency and the issues, according to those familiar with his preparations.
Among those advising Carson have been former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez and Alphonso Jackson, the agency’s secretary under President George W. Bush.
Martinez told ABC News that Carson was “very much on top of the issues” of housing policy and argued that his lack of government experience heading into the role is not a liability but an asset, calling it “purposeful.”
“I think it’s a common element in a lot of this administration,” he said.
Republican consultant Gianno Caldwell told ABC News that there are questions surrounding Carson’s qualifications for the post but added that Carson has been preparing for weeks.
“They have been prepping for weeks and meeting with members of Congress on the Hill since he got nominated,” Caldwell said. “They are very excited. There are lot of folks that believe he’s going to do a very good job, put together an excellent team. There are questions surrounding his qualifications, but he’s been prepping for weeks.”