By Thomas J. Edwards —Commentary
Ben Carson is under the congressional gun. A select coterie of lawmakers now want his hide more than ever. But he has a big trump card in his face-off with Congress: the firm backing of President Donald Trump who likes how Carson is attempting to haul HUD out of six-decades of corrupt bureaucratic goo.
Carson’s ace card: He speaks directly, uses facts instead of conjecture, applies reason, provides comprehensible rationale, all qualities foreign to the current crop of national lawmakers. As a result, Carson’s forthrightness places a big political target on his tenure as HUD secretary. But as the political climate shifts, Carson may turn out to be the longest-serving and most effective HUD secretary. Everything now points in that direction, if he wants it.
Take for example Carson’s response to rookie Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) over the acronym “REO,” which means Real-Estate Owned in government parlance. At the same time, Carson has been accused by lawmakers of being an “OREO,” an overall offensive racial designation and a degrading term in the African-American community — black on the outside, white in the center. Did Carson understand Porter when she asked him about REO in the din of the cavernous House Financial Services Committee hearing room? Or did he misinterpret the term? Or did he seize on the opportunity to illustrate the tension between the Trump administration’s approach to HUD and the anti-Trump contingent in Congress.
No one really knows but Carson. But Carson’s response to the flap — offering to send Porter a package of Oreo Cookies — propelled Porter into a frenzy and triggered an orchestrated outcry from aggrieved members of Congress. To be sure, that must have delighted the White House inner sanctum.
When Carson walked into HUD for the first time in early 2017, he had no administrative experience and no one to firmly grip his shoulder and lead him through the claustrophobic bunker that is HUD’s headquarters, where an army Obama administration hand-me-downs were waiting to pounce on his every move like interminably criticizing purchase of an expensive dining suite that, while being a politically tactless move, is de rigueur redecorating at the highest levels in a regime change.
After all, the Obama leftovers had anticipated being able to complete the goals of ex-President Barack Obama under a Hillary Clinton administration, such as strict Fair Housing Act enforcement — a seismic shift in zoning laws to accommodate a diaspora of racial and ethnic minorities from inner cities into placid, largely white segregated suburban neighborhoods.
And the Obama loyalists were set to move the country from a homeowning nation to a rental housing economy operated by the federal government, a move intended to significantly reduce individual property ownership and redistribute its wealth more equitably while eliminating homelessness.
Those two goals of Obama’s “transformation” of HUD were placed by Carson in bureaucratic limbo while HUD shifts strategy to return HUD to its original mission of assisting urban renewal while providing a housing safety net for the elderly and disabled and a temporary housing refuge for families in need.
Meanwhile, Carson must stumble on, bereft of the senior administrative cadre necessary to subdue and replace Obama loyalists — political appointees held in semi-terminal limbo by Senate Democrats unwilling to provide the votes to confirm them. That partisan roadblock has stymied Carson at every turn and has kept HUD in an administrative dark age for the past two years.