Ben Carson found himself the subject of the Internet’s latest meme on Tuesday, when he confused a term about foreclosure properties for an Oreo cookie.
The Housing and Urban Development Secretary, who was one of the candidates running for the Republican presidential ticket back in 2016, was answering a series of questions during a congressional hearing from Rep. Katie Porter of California at the time of the snafu.
She had asked him about REOs, a term to describe properties that don’t sell at foreclosure auctions (therefore becoming Real Estate Owned). But Carson, 67, appeared confused.
“I’d also like you to get back to me, if you don’t mind, to explain the disparity in REO rates,” Porter, 45, said. “Do you know what an REO is?”
“An Oreo?” Carson asked in response.
“No, not an Oreo. An R-E-O. REO,” Porter said — clarifying further as Carson tried to spell out the acronym, mistaking the “O” for “organization” incorrectly. “Owned, real estate owned. That’s what happens when a property goes to foreclosure, we call it an R-E-O.”
She went on to claim that the Federal Housing Authority had more REOs than government-sponsored enterprises (known as GSEs). “FHA loans have much higher REOs,” Porter continued. “That is, they got to foreclosure rather than to loss mitigation or to non-foreclosure alternatives like short sales than comparable loans at the GSCs. So I’d like to know why we’re having more foreclosures that end with people losing their homes with stains to their credit and disruption to their communities at FHA than we are at the GSCs.”
After the hearing, Porter tweeted out video of her exchange with Carson.
“I asked @SecretaryCarson about REOs — a basic term related to foreclosure — at a hearing today. He thought I was referring to a chocolate sandwich cookie,” she quipped. “No, really.”
Carson, for his part, made a joke out of the mixup.
“OH, REO!” the retired neurosurgeon tweeted later, holding a box of Oreo cookies that he said he was passing on to Porter. “Thanks, @RepKatiePorter. Enjoying a few post-hearing snacks. Sending some your way!”
She didn’t appreciate how Carson laughed it off.
“He actually sent a family-size box of Double Stuf Oreos to our office,” Porter told CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront. “And while I was pleased to receive correspondence from him, what I’m really looking for is answers.”
“I was asking serious questions about serious problems that Americans are facing,” she added. “The foreclosure rate continues to exist at FHA and the foreclosure proceedings and processes have been bad for over 15 years I worked on the issue. I was coming with a series of serious questions and I was hoping to get serious answers.”
It’s been a rocky road for Carson as the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Prior to accepting Trump’s offer for the position, Carson admitted through aid Armstrong Williams that he wasn’t qualified, with Williams telling The Hill that “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”
From there, Carson has made some controversial remarks on public housing for low-income residents, including saying that it shouldn’t be too “comfortable” or affordable so that it motivates people to move out quickly, The New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, just last week, the Government Accountability Office determined Carson’s housing department broke the law when it spent $31,561 for a new dining-room set and nearly $9,000 for a new dishwasher for Carson’s office, CNN reported.
The determination was not brought up at all during Carson’s three-hour congressional hearing, CNN reported.