Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) used her first round of questions to HUD nominee Ben Carson to highlight an issue Democrats have struggled to bring to a vote.
“Can you assure me that not a single taxpayer dollar that you give out will financially benefit the president-elect or his family?” asked Warren.
“The things that I do are driven by a sense of morals and values,” said Carson. “Therefore, I will absolutely not play favorites for anyone.”
“It’s not about your good faith,” said Warren. “That’s not my concern. My concern is whether or not, among the billions of dollars that you will be responsible for handing out in grants and loans, can you just assure us that not one dollar will go to benefit the president-elect and his family?”
“It will not be my intention to benefit any American,” said Carson. (By leaving out a clarifying adjective, like “particular,” he entertained Twitter with a minor flub.) “It’s for all Americans, everything that we do.”
“Do I take that to mean that you may manage programs that benefit the president-elect?” asked Warren.
“You can take it to mean that I will manage things in a way that benefits the American people,” said Carson. “That is going to be my goal. If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that’s working for millions of people, and it turns out that someone that you’re targeting is going to gain $10, will I say, no, you Americans can’t benefit from I think logic and common sense would be the best way.”
“The problem is that you can’t assure us that HUD money, not of $10 varieties but of multimillion dollar varieties, will not end up in the president-elect’s pockets,” said Warren. “The reason you can’t is that the president-elect is hiding his business interests from you, from me, from the rest of the country.”
This was the setup for Warren to pitch the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act, her legislation (supported by many Democrats) to force more disclosure and defined blind trusts for Trump and any future president. After doing so, she moved on; but 30 minutes later, after Warren had left the hearing, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) criticized her in absentia and warned that “fake news” outlets might mislead about Carson’s answer.
“That [question] seems absurd to me,” said Tillis. “You know what I liked most about your question? You wouldn’t get pinned down to a yes or no answer.”
Warren, said Tillis, might have moved on because Carson provided “too good an answer” to rebut.