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Opinion, commentary, and analysis on everything that makes the U.S. housing economy tick -- not to mention the ghosts in the machine, too. Written by HW's team of editors and reporters each business day.
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Ben Carson confirmation hearing had some bark, but where was the bite?

"Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"

January 12, 2017

Ben Carson easily sparked more controversy and concern than any other Department of Housing and Urban Development nominee, and yet when the time finally came to grill the potential future leader of HUD, the original uproar practically dissipated.

The nomination of the former GOP presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon to HUD secretary was met with a lot of skepticism from Americans and politicians.

Most reaction shared a common theme, what does a retired neurosurgeon know about housing? And while no one argues the fact that he is experienced in medicine, how exactly does this qualify him to lead HUD?

Here’s a tweet from Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House and the current highest ranking Democrat, criticizing President-elect Donald Trump’s pick on Twitter.

And then there’s the slew of concerned and troubled comments HousingWire received from readers.

Here are a couple snippets:

  • As someone who has spent a lifetime learning to become an expert in housing, I am extremely concerned. The HUD that he remembers has progressed since then and is different. His perspective seems outdated at best.
  • I really don't understand where this whole notion of bringing in an "outsider" with no experience whatsoever "mix things up" came from? In what other areas of our lives is this a good idea? Maybe skip the experienced brain surgeons in favor of an "outsider"? I suppose (you) would hire Ben Carson to design and build (your) house because he's brilliant and "can solve problems with which he is not familiar." I think (most) everyone reading this would agree that that would be a terrible idea and that experience matters.

But when the time finally came to question Carson at his confirmation hearing, you couldn’t have differentiated the mood in the room from any other HUD secretary nominee.

Don’t forget that current HUD secretary Julián Castro hasn’t been in the seat that long, and it was only back in June 2014 that he was sitting before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Development Committee for his confirmation hearing.

And similar to Carson, Castro, the former San Antonio Mayor, faced kid glove treatment from the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Development Committee, with questions mostly focused on what his plans might be and his position on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform.

Most of the Senate questions were in the form of softballs from Democratic members, with a few policy questions from the committee's Republicans.

And don’t forget, this committee definitely knows how to throw it down in a hearing.

By way of example, shortly before Castro’s hearing, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray faced intense grilling from U.S. Senators as lawmakers considered him for a second leadership term.

Yet despite all the build to Carson’s hearing, his turned out more like Castro’s than Cordray’s.

Lorraine Woellert, the financial services reporter for Politico, even tweeted on the atmosphere in the room today saying:

While Carson did address some of the big points of contention around his nomination, senators focused on other topics such as Carson’s previous comments about housing, veteran homelessness and the LGBT community.

Many senators' opening remarks  began by thanking Carson for stopping by their office and talking with them. As it turns out, Carson was even busier than expected when he was making his rounds on Capitol Hill.

The one Senator to bring more of a fight, to no surprise, was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D – Mass., and even she met with Carson prior to the hearing and was quite respectful toward him, while questioning Carson about HUD potentially sending money to the businesses of President-Elect Donald Trump.

Compass Point Research & Trading even touched on atmosphere in the room in a report stating, “The optimistic tone from members was reminiscent of quotes out of Orioles spring training. The Senators were all happy to be there, and hopeful for the year ahead, but the season hasn't truly started yet.”

So despite the hoopla going into his hearing, Carson's future at HUD secretary is practically locked in. And if you have any problems now, you’d be better off addressing your letters to HUD itself.  

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