Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina was critical of the HUD Secretary, saying his earlier excuse was “the definition of the buck stopping somewhere else.”
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson testified in front of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, Transportation and Urban Affairs, which is responsible for HUD, early on Thursday. Just a day before, Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina issued Carson a letter asking him to explain his expensive purchase of a $31,561 mahogany dining room set for his office with taxpayer money.
Scott’s letter marks the first time the senator has publicly clashed with the administration of President Donald Trump and his cabinet.
“At your confirmation hearing, you testified that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is ‘a part of the solution, helping ensure security and strong communities.’ I agreed with that statement then as I do now,” Scott’s letter reads.
“This is why I was deeply disappointed to see news reports on your alleged involvement in the purchase of a $31,561 dining room set of furniture for your office.”
Thursday morning, Carson testified in front of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, Transportation and Urban Affairs, of which Scott is a member.
In his testimony, Carson stated that he should not be scrutinized for the table set because the purchase was canceled and never made it to the office.
“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 said.
Earlier this week, Carson had tried to shift blame away from himself and onto his wife Candy Carson, who he said made the ultimate decision to buy the set. According to Carson’s earlier testimony, his wife was choosing between several tables when she made her decision, and the Secretary was not aware of its cost.
“The next thing that I, quite frankly, heard about it was that this $31,000 table had been bought,” he said on Tuesday.
Scott’s letter was critical of Carson’s initial response, saying that blaming his wife for the blunder “is the definition of the buck stopping somewhere else.”
Carson’s testimony also contradicts an email correspondence that was released last week. In the emails, an employee details that she had “printouts of the furniture Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out” dated in August of last year.
Carson swears that the furniture needed to be replaced because it was breaking down and dangerous for his employees to use.
“It’s my understanding that the facilities people felt that the dining room table was actually dangerous and it was a facilities issue, not a decorating issue,” he said. He later testified that the dining room furniture need to be replaced because “people were getting stuck by nails,” and “a chair collapsed with someone sitting in it.”
Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown from Ohio was also critical of Carson, charging that he and his office spent more attention and taxpayer dollars on a “wobbly chair in a private D.C. dining room” than the “unsafe and unsanitary conditions in public housing.”
Brown was one of only six Democrats to confirm Carson as Secretary and said that he was already having regrets about his vote.
“I’m not sure I made the right decision,” he lamented.
When it was Scott’s turn, he asked Carson to end the “sideshow” of controversies that affected the HUD office. In addition to the dining set, the Washington Post reported that HUD spent an additional $165,000 on “lounge furniture,” and Politico reported that two employees left when they were accused of fraud and donating to a suspect charity.
“I’m not sure that you realized you signed up to be a human piñata,” Scott said, referring to the media scrutiny public officials endure — especially those in charge of an $8 billion department.
“Folks are seeing [the dining set] as an opportunity to delve into some important questions,” Scott added. “Important issues as well, as opposed to the focus and the attention you have given to HUD and self-sufficiency.”
Carson testified during the hearing that he was unaware of the $5,000 spending limit and said that he will take responsibility for the fiasco, as the secretary of the Department.
“Good,” Scott retorted.