Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) on Thursday slammed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson for failing to take full responsibility for a series of recent embarrassments at the agency, including the decision to spend $31,000 of taxpayer funds on a dining room set for his office.
Carson said at a congressional hearing earlier this week that his wife had been in charge of the redecorating effort, and he was “as surprised as anyone” to find out the furniture came with such a high price tag.
“Instead of taking responsibility, Mr. Secretary, you seem to want to blame others,” Brown said in his opening remarks during a Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs hearing.
“Blaming others seems to be the order of the day in the swamp,” Brown later continued. “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 of taxpayer dollars.”
Carson had previously called the old furniture “dangerous.”
A request to refund the purchase was submitted only after news outlets reported on the extravagant purchase, which a spokesman for Carson initially said would not be returned. Federal guidelines put a $5,000 cap on office decor.
Carson’s subsequent effort to replace the old furniture came out to $3,500.
The housing secretary defended himself at the hearing by pointing to his decision to direct Irving Dennis, HUD’s chief financial officer, to “lead an internal task force within HUD to combat waste, fraud and abuse.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) also criticized Carson for failing to take full responsibility, confronting him with emails reported by CNN that appear to contradict a spokesman’s previous assertion that Carson and his wife were not involved in the $31,000 purchase. Carson later stated he does “not intend to be responsible for what anybody else said.”
Menendez called it “an extraordinary statement because everyone is responsible for what our spokespeople say.”
“If he was wrong, he or you should have had the record set straight,” the senator added.
Following questioning by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Carson eventually admitted he was responsible for the chair incident.
“Even though I wasn’t aware of the $5,000 requirement I still take responsibility,” Carson said.
The housing secretary also faced heated questions during the hearing over a proposed budget that would increase HUD-subsidized rent for low-income households.
President Donald Trump has reportedly considered replacing Carson in the aftermath of the chair incident.