Ben Carson, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, would not say that housing properties owned by Trump won't benefit from HUD programs at his confirmation hearing Thursday.
The former neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate was pressed on the matter by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who asked Carson for assurance "that of all the housing grants he [has] the ability to bestow," not one dollar will go to benefit either the president-elect or his family.
Carson responded it would not be his intention "to do anything to benefit any American," quickly adding that anything the department does "is for all Americans." Carson said, "If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that's working for millions of people, and it turns out that someone that you're targeting is going to gain, you know, $10 from it, am I going to say 'no'?" Carson asked. "Logic and common sense probably would be the best way."
Trump's family made its fortune in real estate, and it still owns some rental properties in New York. Trump has refused to divest his assets, and Warren, who tangled with Trump during the campaign, charged the president-elect is "hiding his family's business interests from you, from me, from the rest of America."
In a later exchange, Carson said he would report to lawmakers on any dealings HUD has with properties owned by Trump or his family.
For the most part, Carson had a friendly reception from the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. He told them that as a youth he understood what housing insecurity was, having had to move in with relatives after his parents split up.
Addressing why, as a neurosurgeon, he wanted to take the reins of the housing agency, Carson said that while most people think of HUD "as putting roofs over the heads of poor people, it has the ability to be so much more than that," adding he wanted to take "a holistic approach" to help "develop our fellow human beings."
Carson also said he thinks HUD's rental assistance program is "essential" and that it is cruel and unusual punishment to cut entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid before there is "an alternative route."
If confirmed, Carson said he would take a listening tour to hear from HUD employees "with boots on the ground."