On Tuesday, Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon turned former presidential candidate, appeared before the House Financial services Committee to defend the Trump administration's plan to purge undocumented immigrants from public housing. "It’s not that we’re cruel, mean-hearted," Carson said. "It’s that we are logical. This is common sense. You take care of your own first."
That's an odd way to represent what the administration wants to do. Currently, families of mixed immigration status are allowed to live in government-subsidized housing as long as at least one family member is a U.S. citizen. The plan Carson is trying to shepherd through HUD would require that ever family member to be a legal U.S. resident, or the entire family would be purged. The agency's own analysis estimates that this change would affect 55,000 U.S. children legally entitled to aid, leaving them homeless.
Carson's tenure as the head of HUD had been controversial. Before he accepted the position, he admitted he wasn't qualified for the position, saying through an aide that: "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." He accepted the appointment anyway. Since then he's made it clear that his philosophy toward public housing is that it should be cost prohibitive and physically uncomfortable, so that residents are motivated to move out quickly. Most studies on public housing and mental health show that the opposite is true. According to a National Institutes of Health study, being forced to live in poor conditions actually exacerbates depression and makes it harder for people to improve their living situation. To put that into context: Carson also tried to expense a $31,561 dining-room set for his office, and a former HUD employee complained of being demoted for pushing back on him exceeding the legal limit of $5,000 for renovations.
The rest of the hearing didn't go any better for Carson. At one point, California Democrat Katie Porter asked him about REO, which stands for "real estate owned," a term that refers to a property owned by a lender, like, say, a bank or a government agency, after a foreclosure. Carson didn't know the term—in fact, he tried twice to guess what the initials might stand for.
Porter: Do you know what an REO is?
Carson: An Oreo?
Porter: No, not an Oreo. An REO.
Carson: Real estate...
Porter: What’s the “O” stand for?
HUD has REO properties for sale across the country, and even has a massive database of the homes that are available for brokers, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and the general public to buy. The fact that Carson doesn't seem to know what they are is troubling, to say the least.
He also had an almost identical exchange with representative Joyce Beatty, a Democrat from Ohio, who asked him about OMWI, the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. Except in this case, it's apparently the second time Beatty and Carson have had this exact conversation, meaning he never bothered to familiarize himself with them after the first time he embarrassed himself.
The issue here isn't just that Carson lacks the experience to lead Housing and Urban Development, it's that he isn't curious at all to learn how the government agency he runs works. Instead, he seems genuinely uninterested, nearly disdainful, of the whole thing.
Originally Appeared on GQ