Senators Tell Ben Carson He Cares More About Dining Set Than Poor People Who Need Housing

In a Senate oversight hearing Thursday, Senator Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats hammered Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson over expensive furniture he ordered for his office and for the job he has been doing.

Last year, Carson planned to spend more than $31,000 on a dining set and other furniture for his office at a time when the White House indicated a planned cut in spending for his office.

The expenditure has been widely criticized, even though Carson said he canceled the order due to the price. Carson also has put much of the blame for the incident on his wife. There is a $5,000 spending limit on office decorations for department heads, after which congressional approval is required—approval the department did not seek.

Carson also took heat for how his agency is handling housing discrimination.

"Don't get me wrong, I think scamming the taxpayers is a scandal, but the biggest scandal of your tenure is your unwillingness to do your job and enforce the laws that reduce housing discrimination and segregation across this country," said Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. "It is HUD's job to help end housing discrimination—that's what the law said. You said you would enforce these laws, you haven't, and I think that's the scandal that should get you fired."

Carson, who said during the hearing that the bottom line was that the furniture never "materialized," defended himself against Warren.

"I don't think that you have characterized things in any way close to what is accurate," he said. "But you're welcome to say whatever you want."

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio also blasted Carson.

"Under your leadership, Secretary Carson, HUD has decided a wobbly chair in a private D.C. dining room requires the urgent attention of no fewer than 16 staffers and thousands, thousands of taxpayer dollars," Brown said. "Unsafe and unsanitary conditions in public housing that puts working children and families at risk? Not our problem, you say. Let them use vouchers."

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson testifies before the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies on March 20. Carson has drawn fire from lawmakers for purchasing furniture for his office suite, despite agency cutbacks. Aaron P. Bernstein/GETTY