Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson mistook a common housing term for a cookie during a congressional hearing. And that was only the start of his weird day on the Hill.
During a budget hearing in front of the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday, freshman Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat from California, quizzed Carson on what “REO” stands for. It means “real-estate owned,” and it’s a common term used to describe homes that have been foreclosed upon and are owned by a bank.
Carson, who’s the head of a federal agency that oversees housing, apparently thought Porter was asking him about a cookie. “An Oreo?” he responded.
“No, not an Oreo,” Porter responded, “an R-E-O.”
“Real estate?” Carson replied. When asked what the “O” stood for, Carson said, “Organization?”
After the hearing, Carson tried to make light of the exchange. He posted a photo from his government Twitter account and joked that he’d be sending Porter some Oreos.
Carson, a former brain surgeon and 2016 presidential candidate, had no prior experience with housing policy before President Donald Trump appointed him to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Later in the day, he also didn’t seem familiar with how congressional hearings work.
When Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a freshman Democrat from Massachusetts, asked Carson a question about public housing, he refused to answer. Instead, the HUD Secretary tried to reclaim his time.
“Yes or no,” Pressley asked. “If left unaddressed, do you believe that substandard public housing conditions pose a risk to tenants’ physical, mental, and emotional health?”
“You already know the answer to that,” Carson said. “Reclaiming my time.” (He may have gotten the idea from Rep. Maxine Waters, who chairs the committee.)
“You don’t get to do that,” Pressley responded. She’s right, of course. Witnesses at congressional hearings don’t get to reclaim their time.
“Oh,” said Carson, chuckling.
Carson appeared before the committee to defend the Trump administration’s proposal to cut 16.4% from the HUD budget. In line with the administration’s hard-line immigration agenda, Carson has also proposed preventing undocumented immigrants from getting housing aid.
But Carson brushed off a question from Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from Texas, about what would happen to children who could be made homeless by the change.
“Maybe what will happen is you and Congress will do your job and solve the problem,” Carson said.
Cover image: Image from Ben Carson's government Twitter account