When a freshman congresswoman asked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson at a congressional hearing Tuesday whether he knew what the housing term “REO” was, Carson thought she was referencing the similar-sounding cookie.

“An Oreo?” the secretary asked.

No, said Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), her tone firm. She spelled it back to him, twice.

Carson came up with: “real estate e-organization.”

It’s actually “real estate owned.”

The term refers to property owned by a bank or a lender after it’s been foreclosed. Porter wanted to know why the rate of REOs issued by the Federal Housing Administration is higher than that for other government-owned real estate.


Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Hours after the hearing, Carson tweeted a photo of a package of Oreos next to a note thanking Porter for participating in the hearing, with the caption: “OH, REO! Thanks, @RepKatiePorter. Enjoying a few post-hearing snacks. Sending some your way!”

Porter said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday night that Carson did, in fact, send cookies to her office.

“He actually sent a family-size box of Double Stuf Oreos to our office,” she said. “And while I was pleased to receive correspondence from him, what I’m really looking for is answers.”

Carson appeared before the House Financial Services Committee for more than three hours, fielding questions about housing policies. Several times he stumbled as Democrats, especially the women on the committee, tried to poke holes in his knowledge of the agency he runs.

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) asked him if he was familiar with “OMWI.”

“With who?” Carson asked.

“OMWI,” the congresswoman repeated.

“Amway?” the secretary replied.

The acronym stands for Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. Beatty wanted to know whether HUD had such an office and whether he worked with its director.

“Of course we have an office of . . .” Carson trailed off.

“OMWI,” the congresswoman repeated.

Except HUD doesn’t have an OMWI. Instead, it has an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which performs a similar function. Either way, Carson couldn’t name the director of that office.

Then, near the end of the hearing, freshman Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) chided Carson and the Trump administration for failing to improve conditions in low-income housing. During a lightning round in which Pressley wanted yes-or-no answers to her questions, Carson failed to provide them.

During one particularly contentious moment, Carson said, “Reclaiming my time.”

“You don’t get to do that,” Pressley retorted.

Pressley then asked Carson if he would allow his grandmother to live in public housing under his watch.

“It would be very nice if you could stop . . .” Carson trailed off, and Pressley’s time expired.