5 major takeaways from Ben Carson’s hearing to become HUD Secretary

Trump’s nominee seemed unsure if providing housing is key to fighting poverty.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Ben Carson prepares to testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. CREDIT: AP /Zach Gibson
Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Ben Carson prepares to testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. CREDIT: AP /Zach Gibson

By Casey Quinlan and Carimah Townes

Former neurosurgeon and author Ben Carson is likely to become President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). On Thursday, he sailed through his confirmation hearing before the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee with little opposition.

Carson has no government experience, and reportedly turned down a nomination to become President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). But his testimony before the committee provided a glimpse of the types of policies he’ll pursue if confirmed to lead HUD.

Here are five takeaways:

1. Carson wants a “holistic” approach to affordable housing, but doesn’t seem convinced that having a house is key

Carson repeatedly said he wants to use a “holistic” approach to dealing with issues of poverty, and that he wants to work with the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Labor on initiatives such as mentoring programs.

“The programs that have been enacted in HUD over the years are good programs. In and of themselves, they’re not bringing about the elevation of large numbers of people,” he said.

Carson also mentioned a holistic approach in the context of public health and veterans’ affairs. He brought up the possibility of “putting clinics into neighborhoods” and anticipating issues such as PTSD by having a team monitor soldiers during their service — not after.

But several exchanges between Carson and his interrogators indicated that he’s unsure that securing a place to live is an important element of fighting poverty.

At one point, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) asked Carson whether he believed in the premise that you have to put a roof over someone’s head before you can address other problems, such as substance abuse or employment issues. Carson responded that he knows one person who benefited from the Housing First program, which helps people secure housing before connecting them to social services. But he also said he needs to look at more data.

“Those are programs that we will study carefully — see what we can derive from those and how we can take those lessons and multiply them across the nation,” he said.

2. He supports time limits on affordable housing

During a round of questioning from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Carson affirmed his position that low-income Americans should face a limit on public assistance.

“What I’m saying is that we have to be cognizant of our fiscal responsibilities as well as our social responsibilities. Would we love to put every single person in a beautiful unit forever? Absolutely,” he said. “But we don’t necessarily have the necessary funding.”

Carson added that he wouldn’t gut social services without replacing them. But when Masto asked how he would assist people, aside from imposing time limits, Carson implied that they need to help themselves.

“There’s a much bigger picture issue here, and that is fixing our economy, and working very hard to create the right kind of atmosphere,” he said. “When that happens, people have a lot more options in terms of their jobs, and people have to raise their salaries.”

3. Carson vowed to protect LGBTQ people against discrimination

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) raised the issue of high rates of homelessness among LGBTQ youth and brought up Carson’s past comments on same-sex marriage and rights for transgender people to use facilities matching their gender.

“You have, in the past, raised questions of whether LGBTQ people should have the same rights as everyone else,” Brown said.

Carson responded that if confirmed, he would “enforce the laws of the land.” He then added that he spoke of “extra rights” in his comments about LGBTQ people.

Cortez Masto also asked Carson whether he would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, to which Carson replied, “Absolutely.”

Regarding “extra rights,” Carson once said it wasn’t “fair” to “everyone else” that trans people should use the bathroom matching their gender.

“It’s one of the things that I don’t particularly like about the movement,” Carson said to Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “I think everybody has equal rights, but I’m not sure that anybody should have extra rights — extra rights when it comes to redefining everything for everybody else and imposing your view on everybody else.”

Carson’s views on LGBTQ rights matter because he would be overseeing the department’s enforcement efforts of the Fairing Housing Act and could rescind guidance that offers clearer fair housing protections for LGBTQ people.

4. Senators don’t seem concerned about Carson’s past inflammatory remarks about HUD

During his failed bid to become president, Carson made a number of disparaging remarks about low-income Americans — the very population he’s been nominated to serve as HUD’s leader. He has said poverty is a choice and argued that government keeps people in a state of dependency. He also described Obama’s HUD rule to enforce the Fair Housing Act as a “failed socialist experiment.”

Based on their questions about those past remarks during the hearing, voting members of the committee were aware of Carson’s past statements. But senators on both sides of the aisle didn’t press him too hard on his problematic positions.

For instance, Brown repeated Carson’s “failed socialist experiment” line and asked the nominee to clarify what he thinks about HUD’s enforcement of desegregation rules. But he was pacified when Carson said he would uphold the rule of law.

“We have people sitting around desks in Washington, D.C. deciding on how things should be done,” Carson said. “I don’t have any problem whatsoever with affirmative action, or at least integration. I have no problem with that at all. I do have a problem with people on high dictating it when they don’t know about what’s going on in the area.”

Brown then asked Carson to clarify his position about who should oversee the Fair Housing Act’s implementation. Watch the full exchange here:

5. Carson said he would be mindful of Trump properties

When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pressed Carson on whether or not the department would give special treatment to properties owned by Trump, he dodged the question.

“It will not be my intention to do anything to benefit any American,” Carson responded.

But when Brown asked if Carson would report on any conflicts of interest in regards to funding for property owned by Trump, Carson responded, “I would be more than delighted.”