(Adds comments by Carson, Warren, other details on hearing,
By Patrick Rucker and James Oliphant
WASHINGTON Jan 12 U.S. Senate Democrats on
Thursday pressed Ben Carson, Donald Trump's nominee to lead
housing policy, on potential conflicts of interest between the
agency he is set to run and properties in which the
president-elect may hold a financial stake.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) hands
out billions of dollars each year to developers and landlords.
Democrats grilling Carson during his confirmation hearing for
the post expressed concerns that some of that taxpayer money
could end up directed to Trump or members of his family.
"The president-elect is hiding his family businesses
interests from you, from me, and the rest of America," Senator
Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of Trump's most vocal
critics, told Carson. "He can divert taxpayer money into his own
pockets without the American people knowing about it."
Trump, a New York businessman who got his start in real
estate, has refused to release his tax returns or provide
detailed information about his holdings across the globe.
On Wednesday, he announced that he would turn control of his
business empire over to his two oldest sons and move his assets
into a trust. Those moves, however, have not assuaged some
critics who argue that, as president, Trump will still have
undisclosed financial interests that could affect his policies.
Pushed on the issue by Democrats, Carson at one point vowed
he would monitor any potential conflicts of interest but said
he was unsure about how to go about it.
Asked how he would prevent conflicts, the retired
neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate told
the Senate Banking Committee, "I would hope what would happen
with this committee is that we could come up with a suggestion
that might be acceptable to all sides."
Trump reportedly has an interest in the massive Starrett
City housing project in the New York City of Brooklyn, which has
received HUD funds. But Trump's real estate career has focused
mainly on luxury housing, commercial real estate and resort
Earlier in the hearing, Carson was noncommittal when Warren
asked him to ensure that no HUD programs would benefit Trump.
"If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that
is working for millions of people and it turns that someone
you're targeting is going to gain $10 from it, am I going to
say, 'No, the rest of you Americans can't have it?'" Carson
Carson is widely expected to be confirmed by the
Republican-controlled Senate committee and full Senate.
Much of Thursday's hearing focused on Carson's long-standing
antipathy toward social-welfare programs, with some senators
asking him whether he, in fact, supports HUD's mission to
provide housing assistance to millions of Americans.
"I think the rental assistance program is essential," Carson
replied. He later, added, however that social programs have to
operate within financial constraints.
Much of Carson's remarks focused on his well-documented
background growing up poor in inner-city Detroit, saying he
learned young what "housing insecurity" means. He provided few
details in terms of U.S. housing policy or how he would revamp
the agency, suggesting only that he was interested in making it
If confirmed as HUD secretary, Carson would oversee an
agency with a roughly $40 billion budget that not only helps the
poor but underwrites mortgage loans for middle-class families.
HUD's Federal Housing Administration (FHA) stands behind
roughly one in five home loans and at least $1.1 trillion in
debt - a number that Carson said was troubling.
Outgoing HUD Secretary Julian Castro this week slashed HUD
fees for mortgage default insurance, which he said would save
the average HUD-backed homeowner $500 a year.
Carson suggested that he would consider reversing that
"Certainly, if confirmed, I am going to work with the FHA
administrator and other financial experts to really examine that
policy," he said.
(Reporting By Patrick Rucker; Editing by Linda Stern and