The hearing on Ben Carson’s nomination to be secretary of housing and urban development is over. But just before it concluded, Democrats won a small concession from the nominee over the president-elect’s potential conflicts of interest.
The issue had been brought up early in the hearing by Senator Elizabeth Warren, who asked Carson if he could ensure “that not a single taxpayer dollar that you give out will financially benefit the president-elect and his family.”
Carson would not give a straight yes or no answer, saying he didn’t want to say he would quash a valuable program just because a certain family benefits from it. Trump has interests in at least one project that benefits from HUD subsidies, called Starrett City, in New York.
In the second round of questioning, Senator Sherrod Brown suggested that it could be difficult to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest should any issues arise with that property. Carson, in response, said he hoped the committee would come up with a suggestion on how to deal with such projects.
“Would you commit to report back on any issue that should arise on a property owned by Mr. Trump or his family, and any contact you or any subordinates receive from the Trump Organization or the White House or any other source, other than normal back-and-forth between a project and its officials?” Brown asked.
“I would be more than delighted to discuss that,” Carson said.
“Will you set up a process to identify those conflicts?” Brown asked.
“I will work with you to set that up,” Carson said.
The interactions between Brown and Carson were some of the most lively of the hearing, with Brown repeatedly asking Carson whether he believes that HUD has a role in ensuring that all Americans have access to safe and affordable housing. In his opening statement, he seemed to express significant doubt that Carson is the right nominee for the job.
“In one of the few statements he's made on the subject of this hearing and the subject of his new job, and one of the few statements he has made on housing policy, he called into question more than four decades of civil-rights law. He disparaged HUD's efforts to reduce segregation as ‘social-engineering schemes designed to legislate racial equality,’" Brown said.
But Carson got his own chance to comment on Brown. After Brown said he had one more question, Carson quipped, “You remind me of Columbo,” referring to the title character in a TV series starring Peter Falk.
“Is that good or bad?” Brown answered. “I’ve actually heard that before.”