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Ben Carson’s Confirmation Hearings as HUD Secretary Begin Thursday

by Countable | 1.12.17

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Ben Carson as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In announcing the pick, Trump said Carson, one of 16 candidates he defeated in the 2016 Republican primaries, "has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities."

Who is Ben Carson?

Carson, 65, grew up receiving food stamps and other public assistance – including living in public housing – in some of Detroit’s rougher neighborhoods. His parents divorced when he was 8, and his mother, Sonya, worked multiple jobs while raising him and his older brother, Curtis, on her own.

In high school, he joined the Army’s Junior ROTC, reaching the rank of cadet colonel, before heading for Yale University and graduating in 1973 with a degree in psychology. He earned his M.D. from the Medical School at the University of Michigan in 1977 and completed his residency in neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. After a year working at an Australian hospital, he returned to Johns Hopkins in 1984 and, at age 33, was named director of pediatric neurosurgery. It was there that in 1987 he led a 70-member surgical team in the first successful separation of twins joined at the head. He retired from practice in 2013.

Politically, Carson at first considered himself a Democrat, even voting for George McGovern for president in 1972. But after the Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton for perjury in 1998 following discovery of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Carson switched his affiliation to the Independence Party of Florida, explaining that he had grown tired of the "hypocrisy in both parties."

He gained popularity within conservative circles after criticizing President Barack Obama’s policies while delivering the keynote speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast – with Obama in attendance. Carson was soon thereafter hired to provide commentary for Fox News and The Washington Times.

He has said he began exploring a potential presidential run on the day of the 2014 midterm elections, the same day he officially registered as a Republican. Despite an early poll surge, his candidacy withered, and the Super Tuesday primary results persuaded him to drop out and endorse Trump, with whom he seemed relatively friendly during the often contentious debates.

A Seventh-Day Adventist, Carson has credited his faith with saving him from giving in to youthful anger and has said he refrains from eating most meats. He has received numerous medical awards, 38 honorary doctorates and in 2008, was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He has authored six best sellers, four of them with his wife. His autobiography, "Gifted Hands," was turned into a 2009 made-for-TV movie.

He and Lacena "Candy" Rustin met as students at Yale. They married in 1975. Besides being a writer, she is a former concert violinist and a longtime vegetarian. The couple has three sons and several grandchildren and lives in West Palm Beach, Fla.

What’s the outlook for his confirmation?

It’s likely that he’ll be confirmed – but not without a fight. The Democrats are already marshaling their efforts to thwart the confirmation. Carson was initially named to the Trump transition team, and his opponents are expected to pounce on his admission that he lacked the experience to serve in the Cabinet.

More than 30 housing and urban affairs academics have signed an open letter voicing their "strong opposition" to placing Carson at HUD’s helm. They cite his lack of experience in managing any large bureaucracy and his “publicly expressed disdain for HUD’s particular mission to ensure a safe home for every American.” And outgoing HUD Secretary Julián Castro has expressed concern that the department would “go backwards” under Carson.

But key Republicans maintain that he would bring a fresh perspective and "brain power" to the post. And Carson himself points to the fact that he grew up poor yet became a doctor with a large patient base drawn from the inner-city as a unique qualifier. Ultimately, with the GOP’s Senate majority, Carson appears a shoo-in, if only after intense vetting by his many detractors.

You can tell your senators how to vote on Carson's confirmation using the "Take Action" button.

What does the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development do?

Its task is to ensure access to "fair and equal housing" by supporting homeownership, increasing the number of safe and affordable rentals, reducing homelessness and fighting discrimination. The department’s Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) assists low-income families, the disabled and the elderly. HUD also oversees the Federal Housing Administration, which makes homeownership possible for people found ineligible for traditional mortgages.

In 2015, HUD was allocated over $48 billion in funding and around that time it employed more than 8,400 workers.

— Erin Wright

(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons)

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