March 02, 2017

Van Hollen Statement in Opposition to Confirmation of Dr. Ben Carson

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen submitted the following statement to the congressional record in opposition to the confirmation of Dr.Ben Carson to be Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development:

"Mr. President, Congress created the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965 to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all Americans. During last year's Presidential campaign, however, President Trump often called into question his commitment to an inclusive America. Thus, the abilities and commitment of the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development are all the more important.

"I voted along with others in the Banking Committee to report Dr. Carson's nomination to the full Senate, because I wanted to allow the nomination to proceed to the floor for consideration and debate. During that time, I have further examined the nomination. I reviewed the statements and letters that I have received from organizations and individuals who are directly impacted by the work of HUD.

"Dr. Carson is a gifted neurosurgeon. But nothing in his experience indicates that he is prepared to run an 8,400-employee Government agency. Armstrong Williams, a business manager and close friend of Dr. Carson's, told Reuters in November, "His life has not prepared him to be a Cabinet secretary." Mr. Williams told CNN, "He's never run an agency and it's a lot to ask. He's a neophyte and that's not his strength." And Mr. Williams told The Hill newspaper, "Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he's never run a federal agency."

"Moreover, Dr. Carson's past statements have questioned the mission of the agency that he would lead. He has implied that housing assistance provided by the Department is harmful. He has characterized it as if it were calculated to create dependency, ignoring the real world needs of people who rely on this important safety net. Dr. Carson was dismissive when, during his confirmation hearing, I noted that so many millions of people who receive housing assistance are seniors or people with disabilities, and I asked Dr. Carson about his past advocacy of abolishing Medicare and Medicaid. Dr. Carson's testimony in committee did not show understanding of the importance of these safety net programs to seniors or people with disabilities.

"Dr. Carson has also made several statements that call into question his view of the role of the Department in ensuring fair housing for all. Specifically, he has said disparaging things about housing desegregation efforts. In July of 2015, Dr. Carson wrote in the Washington Times that the Department of Housing and Urban Development rule designed to desegregate housing, the "affirmatively further" rule, was a "social experiment" and he likened it to "failed socialist experiments."

"Dr. Carson likened housing desegregation to "what you see in communist countries." After HUD issued a letter declaring that the City of Dubuque's implementation of the Section 8 housing voucher program was intentionally discriminatory against black applicants from Chicago, Dr. Carson told Iowa radio show host Jan Mickelson, "This is what you see in communist countries, where they have so many regulations encircling every aspect of your life that if you don't agree with them, all they have to do is pull the noose."

"Dr. Carson has also shown a lax attitude toward holding accountable those who triggered the housing crisis and financial collapse.

"In the February 2016 CBS Republican Presidential Debate, Dr. Carson seemed to question the penalty that the Justice Department and the New York Attorney General extracted from a big New York bank for contributing to the mortgage crisis. The Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel asked Dr. Carson:

'This week Morgan Stanley agreed to pay a $3.2 billion fine to state and federal authorities for contributing to the mortgage crisis. You have a lot of Democrats out saying that we should be jailing more executives, so two questions. Should financial executives be held legally responsible for financial crisis, and do you think fines like these are an effective way to deter companies from future behavior like that?'

"Dr. Carson replied:

'Now, the - as far as these fines are concerned, you know? Here's the big problem. We've got all these government regulators, and all they're doing is running around looking for people to fine. And, we've got 645 different federal agencies, and sub-agencies. Way, way too many, and they don't have anything else to do. I think what we really need to do is start trimming the regulatory agencies rather than going after the people who are trying to increase the viability, economic viability of our society.'

"While criticizing the Justice Department for its work to hold Wall Street accountable, Dr. Carson also advocated for a policy that would have made housing less affordable. His campaign website called for "privatizing housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play an important role providing liquidity to the nation's mortgage finance system. A large number of advocacy groups, academics, and industry stakeholders alike agree that some form of government backstop is necessary to ensure a stable housing market and to maintain the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

"I am also deeply troubled by statements made by Dr. Carson that indicate intolerance. When in September 2015, Chuck Todd of NBC's Meet the Press asked Dr. Carson whether he thought Islam is consistent with the Constitution, Dr. Carson answered, "No, I don't, I do not." Dr. Carson's remarks revealed a fundamental misunderstanding about the First Amendment and religious liberty. And Dr. Carson's remarks about the LGBT community also raise concerns about tolerance.

"Because of all the concerns that I have raised, I will not be able to support Dr. Carson's nomination for this post. However, should he be confirmed, I will do everything possible to help make his tenure successful. Specifically, I was heartened by Dr. Carson's statements about wanting to address the hazards of lead paint. And I was pleased that at his confirmation hearing, Dr. Carson agreed that he would urge President Trump to continue the White House task force that President Obama created after the Freddie Gray tragedy in Baltimore to help Baltimore by trying to break down some of the silos among different Federal agencies. We have a lot of work to do in Baltimore and throughout Maryland."