Mar 22, 2018, 12:03 PM ET

Democrats question Carson on 'extremely disturbing' news about HUD spending

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For the second time this week, Congressional Democrats pressed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson over his involvement in the agency's decision to order a $31,000 dining set for Carson's office.

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Carson again claimed he argued the cost was too high and denied news stories that he said "talked about the extravagant taste of my wife in redecorating my office."

Ranking Member Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said it was "extremely disturbing" to read about controversies at the department.

"Under your leadership Secretary Carson, HUD has decided a wobbly chair in a private D.C. dining room requires the urgent attention of no fewer than 16 staffers and thousands, thousands of taxpayer dollars," Brown said. "Unsafe and unsanitary conditions in public housing that puts working children and families at risk? Not our problem you say, let them use vouchers."

Brown also said he was questioning his vote to support Carson's confirmation as secretary.

Carson testified in a different committee hearing on Tuesday that he "dismissed" himself from the process of choosing dining room furniture for his office and that he asked his wife to help make the decision. He said he did not know the expensive furniture had been ordered until it was publicly reported.

He defended his role in the purchase again on Thursday, saying that staff asked him to help choose the furniture and that he told them the options were too expensive. Carson said he has asked the agency's chief financial officer to develop new purchasing guidelines and financial controls at the agency.

"The actual stories talked about the extravagant taste of my wife in redecorating my office. We spent a total of $3,500 decorating my office, considerably less than the historical norm," Carson said later in the hearing. "It's not a table, its 17 pieces of furniture that we were asked to replace because it could no longer be repaired after multiple attempts to repair it. The bottom line is that table has not materialized and there is no cost to the people."

When HUD initially confirmed the table was ordered it also provided documents to ABC News confirming that the department spent about $3,500 on new blinds for Carson's office, as well as $1,100 to try to repair the dining set, which the agency said had been in the office since the 1960's.

Carson said Thursday that he wasn't aware there was a $5,000 legal limit on redecorating expenses in the Thursday hearing but that he takes responsibility for the decision.

PHOTO: Ben Carson (L) is sworn in as US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by Vice President Mike Pence in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, March 2, 2017. in Washington, D.C. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Ben Carson (L) is sworn in as US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by Vice President Mike Pence in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, March 2, 2017. in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., also asked Carson about the department's decision to revise its mission statement, potentially removing language about anti-discrimination programs.

The draft of the new statement, first reported by the Huffington Post, references "self-sufficiency," which Carson has emphasized as part of an effort to get people out of public housing and assistance programs.

"Mission statements may not be policy directives but in this case, you've established a pattern and a practice of suggesting that HUD intends to reverse course and ignore its statutory obligation to end housing discrimination and promote inclusive communities. That's not something that many of us are going to stand by," Menendez said.

Carson said that other administrations have also changed the HUD mission statement and that he also would not stand by if the agency stepped away from its policies to combat housing discrimination. He also said in the hearing that his goal is to get people to a point where they don't receive benefits.

Several members of the committee said that the department needs to find the balance between helping people get to a point where they do not need housing assistance and protecting people whose benefits could be more expensive if the department changes its policies like increasing mandatory minimum rent costs.

"I do appreciate the fact that you are trying to lift people up," said Sen. Doug Jones, D-La., "Despite all the efforts to lift them up they can't quite make it and there's a lot of people in my state that despite their efforts and their desire in their heart and they're trying like hell they just can't quite make it and we need to be there for those people continually."

Some Republicans on the committee thanked Carson for his efforts to get people off HUD programs. Sen. John Kennedy, R- Louisiana, said many government programs have become "parking lots when they're supposed to be bridges" and said he supports work requirements on people who are physically able.

"I don't want to take food stamps or affordable housing away from people in need but I do want fewer people to need food stamps and affordable housing," Kennedy said.

Members of the committee also asked Carson about the department's budget. The president's proposed budget would have cut multiple HUD programs significantly but the appropriations bill published by Congress on Wednesday night includes a 10 percent increase in overall funding for the department, according to a statement from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

"This is the second year in a row that this administration tried to eviscerate the already inadequate funding that we provide for affordable housing, thank goodness Congress is the one that provides the funding and saw the needed to ensure that we are shoring up those resources," Sen. Laura Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said.

Congress is set to vote on the spending bill before the end of the week.

News - Democrats question Carson on 'extremely disturbing' news about HUD spending

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CComments

  • notagain

    "The bottom line is that table has not materialized and there is no cost to the people." Only because you were found out before it was delivered.

  • All US citizen's should be allowed to deduct $31K from their tax return.

  • Millard Farquar

    What about the cardboard box option? What an ass. Every department head is the exact opposite of what they should be. It will take decades to fix the mess they are going to leave behind.

  • Cathy

    Can someone explain WHY he needs a dining set for his office???

  • Dicazi

    "The poor wiil be with you always."
    Jesus said that and He also tells us to feed the hungry and help the poor.
    There are always going to be people that for whatever physical, mental, or emotional reasons cannot work fulltime or at all.

  • Joy Johnson

    FIRE his azz then decuct the entire $31,000.00 out of his check!

  • August Jones

    This dirty crook and incompetent medical coward wants homeless disabled veterans warehoused in jammed-packed prison-like hell-hole shelters, on triple level bunk beds, and fed rotted food bank discards farm pigs won't even eat.

  • Marco

    Jonathon Edwards song "Sunshine":

    Well how much does it cost (I'll buy it)
    The time is all we've lost (I'll try it)
    He can't even run his own life
    I'll damned if he'll run mine...(sunshine)

  • Simplythefactsmam

    One Republican said it was a 'deep state' person trying to make Carson look bad even though Carson says he and his wife did it.

    Besides, it's not like a working class person wanted a $31,000 dining set, that would be greedy beyond imagining.

    Invest in tin foil now.

  • Lawrence Roth

    It's not Ben's fault.....he is a loyal member of Trump's swamp.

  • Terry Stein

    Did you all see that smug, arrogant, "so what?" look on his face?

  • Nick

    Did this scumbag try to blame his wife for spending $31,000 on a dinet set?

  • JDC1

    Have democrats lost their minds? Why do you focus on a freaking dinner table when Carson wants to impose “work for benefits” rules on HUD recipients? Noam Chomsky said it best...the Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in American history, and the Democratic Party is the dumbest.

  • Feltois Young

    Uncle Ben!

  • Marco

    I wonder how much of the time said "dining room" remains unused.

  • Krimson

    To be fair, Carson bought the furniture using money from the fake religious charity his CIO was running until he resigned just a couple of days ago...

  • Alex

    This entire administration is unprecedentedly corrupt, and it starts at the top with the most corrupt President this Country has ever seen.

  • arriba65

    They weren't building office furniture, they were building a grain-storage unit. Pyramidal in shape. MAGA.

  • twitchblade

    honorable is not a word I'd use for anyone in this administration.

  • JuPMod

    Hey! Republicans are showing they are great in being financial conservative! /s

  • fifolo

    He needs it to store grain?

  • Gargos

    In what official capacity does his wife serve in this department that she can walk around and communicate with them in regards to purchases they make on our tax dollars?

  • Blue Wave

    When all else fails, throw your wife under the bus.

  • James Coletrane

    It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize $31k is greater than $5k.

  • James Coletrane

    It happened on Bring your Wife to Work Day, so it's not my fault.

  • Hank R

    I'm trying to remember the last time a politician actually manned up and took responsibility. The five basic responses I had to memorize were "Yes Sir", "No Sir", "Aye Aye Sir", "I'll find out sir" and "NO EXCUSE SIR". They still work today.

  • KatsMind

    "It was my wife, not me!"

  • Peter Warlock

    President Moron hires Secretary Moron.. so what else is new?

  • Tertulliano

    The woman who married to me is the one who did it...

  • paddyk

    Better take his a** to IKEA with that nonsense.

  • Jon

    I'd just question Ben Carson over his relevancy on just about anything.

  • motorcyclerider

    Hypocrisy is spelled d e m o c r a t.

  • Lurker111

    "Shall we table the table?" said the American.
    "Or shall we table the table?" said the Brit.

    Educational opportunity re: English vs. English. :)

  • Krimson

    What about Johnson Joy and his fake religious charity??? He just resigned from HUD just a day or so ago b/c of fraud allegations. What’s up ABC???

  • concernedvoter

    When is this incompetent Trump appointed imbecile leaving as well??

  • j penske

    Just another dog and pony show that's a waste of time, and nothing will come of it. Carson will simply sit for a while, answer some questions, then go home.