Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s nomination to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development was advanced by committee Tuesday, moving to the entire Senate for a vote.
The vote before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee was largely symbolic, and Republican control of the committee virtually guaranteed that Carson’s nomination would advance. It is unclear when the final Senate vote on his confirmation will take place.
But even as Carson’s confirmation appears increasingly likely, he faces persistent questions about his qualifications to lead one of the federal government's most complex departments. Carson, an acclaimed brain surgeon and former GOP presidential candidate, has no previous experience in government. Urban policy experts and activists also worry that Carson’s conservative ideology will make him inherently antagonistic to HUD’s role in combating poverty.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the ranking Democratic member on the committee, surprised some Tuesday by supporting Carson's nomination. He said in a statement that Carson was not his first choice to lead HUD and cited the nominee's lack of experience. “But despite my reservations,” Brown said, “and my disagreements with some of his positions, I will give Dr. Carson the benefit of the doubt based on commitments he has made to me in person and to this Committee in his testimony and written responses.”
Carson’s confirmation hearing earlier this month was largely friendly, but there were several flash points between him and Democratic members of the committee, who expressed concern about Carson's ideological preferences on government assistance programs. Several questions from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) centered on whether Carson “truly” believes in HUD's mission of extending opportunity to low-income Americans.
Carson has dismissed those concerns, accusing his critics of having “distorted what I’ve said about government,” even as he has railed against government dependence. During his hearing, Carson also spoke repeatedly about expanding aide to low-income Americans through partnerships with the private sector and faith groups.
“What has happened too often is that people who seemingly mean well have promoted things that do not encourage development of any innate talent in people,” he said. “Hence we have generation after generation living in dependent situations. It’s not that they’re bad people, it’s that this is what they’ve been given, and it’s all they know in some cases.”