Carson’s 'bottom line': No harm done on furniture

- Maret 22, 2018

HUD Secretary Ben Carson defended his handling of the uproar surrounding the order of a $31,000 furniture set for his office suite on Thursday, telling senators “the bottom line” is the furniture was never ordered.

Carson canceled the order after news of the purchase sparked a furious backlash. Asked repeatedly during hostile rounds of questioning by Democrats about the costly table set, Carson at one point appeared to downplay the cost itself.

“It’s not a table — it’s 17 pieces of furniture that we were asked to replace,” he said in an appearance before the Senate Banking Committee

“The bottom line is that the table has not materialized and there is no cost to the American people — not even a penalty cost for whoever ordered it,” he added.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the panel’s top Democrat, zeroed in on the shifting explanations Carson and HUD have offered for the order, saying the secretary was trying to deflect blame for the embarrassment.

Carson on Tuesday told House appropriators he had “left it to [his] wife” to pick new furniture after staff told him the table had fallen into disrepair and needed to be replaced. Carson also said he could not “be responsible for what anyone else said” about his involvement, referring to statements by his spokesman that were later undercut by the evidence.


“Instead of taking responsibility, Mr. Secretary, you seem to want to blame others,” Brown said. “Blaming others seems to be the order of the day in the swamp. I think you need to take responsibility and get things right.”

Carson maintained that his Facebook post of March 5 was accurate — that he and his wife were asked to pick out a table but that he wasn’t aware of the final cost. A HUD spokesman initially told reporters that career staff selected the table without consulting Carson, but emails released last week show a HUD employee referring to “print outs of the furniture Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out” on Aug. 29, 2017.

Brown mocked the justification that the old table had become dangerous, accusing Carson of evincing more concern over a “wobbly chair” than the “unsafe and unsanitary conditions in public housing.”

Given an opportunity by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to clear things up, Carson said that ultimately “we spent a total of less than $3,500 decorating my office.”

Scott — who on Wednesday sent Carson a pointed list of questions about the order — urged the secretary to end “the sideshow” of controversies. Two employees left the agency in recent weeks after media reports linked them to fraud and a questionable charity.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) suggested the real controversy is HUD’s handling of housing discrimination under the Trump administration.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think scamming the taxpayers is a scandal, but the biggest scandal of your tenure is your unwillingness to do your job and enforce the laws that reduce housing discrimination and segregation across this country,” she said.

“It is HUD’s job to help end housing discrimination — that’s what the law said,” Warren added. “You said you would enforce these laws, you haven’t, and I think that’s the scandal that should get you fired.”


 

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