Ben Carson Archives - Florida Politics

HUD Secretary Ben Carson says senior housing is top priority

Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson spoke Monday about the importance of using public-private partnerships to provide affordable housing for seniors.

The neurosurgeon-turned-housing-secretary gave a 30-minute speech to senior housing and health care providers at the 54th Annual LeadingAge Florida Convention in Orlando.

Carson, who took the job in March, said senior housing was one of his top priorities.

“We have to help more people age in place, keep their health and their homes and retain their physical and financial independence,” said Carson, who told the crowd of 300 attendees that his mother has Alzheimer’s disease. “As a physician, son, aging American and HUD secretary, this is personal for me.”

Carson said his mother tried living in a health care facility and hated it. She’s now living with her favorite niece.

“Fortunately, we had the financial means to allow her to make that decision,” he said. “I’m very concerned about seniors who become destitute and are forced into low-income housing. Many look to HUD for housing but the brutal reality is the market is becoming more expensive and housing prices are surging in inner cities like New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago.”

To combat the problem, Carson said HUD is encouraging public-private partnerships by requiring developers to provide affordable housing, while meeting the needs of their high-end buyers through creative financing and leveraging. The government provides seed money, while the developers are the primary source of the funding.

“This is a win-win for residents, developers and taxpayers,” he said. “Seniors must not become economic refugees in their own country, forced out of housing by their nation’s own economic progress.”

Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, said Carson’s visit opened the lines of communication between health care providers and HUD. He said his members are struggling to provide more services to Florida’s growing aging population with less funding.

“We’re trying to provide affordable housing for our growing senior population when the infrastructure doesn’t exist,” Bahner said. “We have a supply and demand problem that must be addressed.”

Bahmer said seniors wait from six to seven years for affordable housing in Central Florida, three to five years in Jacksonville and four to eight years in South Florida, where more than 3,000 people are on the waiting list.

“The sad truth is that a lot of the elderly on our waiting lists will never be able to be housed,” said Juana Mejia, vice president of housing development and operations for Catholic Housing Management. “Our services are not just about providing bingo anymore. We have to find housing and financing in more creative ways.”

Mejia said she is currently partnering with a developer in Coral Springs to rehab a property that will provide 214 units for seniors.

Carson said they are increasing funding from $432 million to $510 million in the 2018 budget to improve HUD’s affordable housing program that provide vouchers to seniors for rental subsidies.

Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program is the only federally-funded housing program designed specifically for older persons. It offers capital advances that finance construction, rehabilitation and purchasing of affordable housing properties for seniors.

To qualify for the subsidies, people must be at least 62 years of age and have incomes below 50 percent of their area’s median income. The average resident’s age in Section 202 housing is 79, and the average annual income is $10,018, according to figures from AARP. Ninety percent of the residents are women.

LeadingAge is a nonprofit whose 250 members care for seniors at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and continuing care retirement communities. The LeadingAge convention at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate continues through Wednesday.

Ted Yoho gets pushback for challenging HUD’s ‘Housing First’ policy

Last week, North Florida Republican Ted Yoho co-signed a letter — along with 22 of his Republican colleagues — calling on Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to review the agency’s ‘Housing First’ policy.

The lawmakers claim Housing First puts a tough strain on homeless shelters in Florida and across the nation.

GOP lawmakers say that policy, which actually began in the George W. Bush administration under former HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, “removed any incentive for independent housing programs to operate under a model that includes mandatory services, accountability, or sobriety.”

“In doing this, the Department has effectively used its administrative and regulatory power to impose national priorities on communities, forcing communities and providers to maximize services for certain populations — chronically homeless adults — at the expense of other equally worthy populations — families, youth, and children — and particular program models, regardless of local circumstances, needs, or a program’s effectiveness to lift participants out of poverty,” the legislators write.

Housing First emphasizes finding secure shelter in the community first, in contrast to homeless programs that insist on preconditions such as sobriety or psychiatric care and moving through transitional housing.

Yoho and his cohorts complain that HUD’s current procedures in proving such assistance have come at the detriment of homeless families, youth, and children at risk.

Dawn Gilman is the CEO of Changing Homelessness based in Jacksonville. She submits the Continuum of Care grant application for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, which is in Yoho’s district,  where veteran homelessness has dropped in her region by over 80 percent since adopting the Housing First policy.

Regarding the criticism by Yoho (and others) that families and youth are not being served as well under Housing First, she considers that as more of a resource issue.

“We have limited resources, so each community has to prioritize,” she says. “HUD gives us an incentive, to prioritize for those most vulnerable.”

Similar reductions in homelessness in communities using Housing First has been duplicated around the nation.

For example, under Housing First, the state of Utah has reduced their number of homeless people from nearly 2,000 people in 2005 to less than 200 as of the end of 2015, according to an NPR report.

In Colorado, officials reported a 73 percent reduction in emergency service costs for chronically homeless individuals with disabilities, for a 24-month period, as compared to the 24 months before entry under Housing First in 2012.

Sara Romeo is the CEO and executive director of Tampa Crossroads. She said it would be the absolute worse move by HUD to return to the old model to fight to end homelessness.

“The Housing First Approach is proven and we could actually see an end to homelessness in a few short years if everyone is following this new practice,” she says. “For over 50-years the shelter model did not end homelessness. The housing first model is actually working to humanely serve and assist homeless families. We have used this model to end veteran homelessness in Hillsborough County where our vet population has decreased from over 3000 to under 200 over the past 5-years. We should not continue to fund any agency who thinks the emergency shelter model is a means to ending homelessness.”

Over the years, Films has met with members of Congress like Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio, Al Lawson and John Rutherford, each of whom have been interested in what Changing Homelessness has been doing. She’s scheduled to meet with staffers from Yoho’s office soon.

Gilman says that while Florida definitely has a higher number of homeless families with children than in other parts of the country, there are better, more effective ways of dealing with that issue then to jettison the Housing First approach.

Ted Yoho urges Ben Carson to reverse Obama-era ‘Housing First,’ reinstate homeless shelter funds

Gainesville Republican Ted Yolo, joined by 22 other House Republicans, co-signed a letter calling Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to reverse the “Housing First” emphasis in policies during the Obama administration.

“Housing First” philosophy holds that the best solution for homelessness is moving people into permanent, independent housing as quickly as possible. In order to implement those guidelines, HUD began increasing programs following that approach, cutting support for traditional shelters.

GOP lawmakers say that because of Housing First, successful homeless shelters in their districts have lost federal funding; they believe Carson needs to review the policy now.

“The Housing First approach may work for some, but it isn’t — and can’t be — the answer for all,” says California Republican Darrell Issa, who also signed the letter to Carson. “This misguided policy has caused some of the most effective homeless assistance programs in our district to walk away from the funding they need to help families get back on their feet.”

Federal officials have acknowledged that the change represents a major shift, with some programs receiving federal dollars in the past are now cut off, making it a more cost-effective way to reach the ambitious goal to end homelessness by 2020 set out by the Obama administration.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has also endorsed the approach.

The text of the letter:

Dear Secretary Carson:

We are writing to you to express our concerns about current U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policies and priorities regarding homelessness assistance.  It has come to our attention that HUD’s current procedures in administering such assistance have put homeless families, youth, and children at risk, in addition to jeopardizing holistic-based programs that work to alleviate the effects of poverty by supporting sobriety, work, and accountability.

As you know, in recent competitions for the Continuum of Care program, one of the program priorities articulated by HUD has been the “Housing First” approach, which focuses on providing immediate access to housing, prioritizing providers that offer services to clients on a voluntary basis, rather than those programs that require sobriety or participation in education, work, training, or service programs.  Under this policy, HUD now gives considerable preference based on a program’s commitment to using the Housing First model, placing programs that do not use that model at a severe disadvantage in receiving financial assistance.

By implementing its preference for the Housing First model, HUD has removed any incentive for independent housing programs to operate under a model that includes mandatory services, accountability, or sobriety.  In doing this, the Department has effectively used its administrative and regulatory power to impose national priorities on communities, forcing communities and providers to maximize services for certain populations — chronically homeless adults — at the expense of other equally worthy populations — families, youth, and children — and particular program models, regardless of local circumstances, needs, or a program’s effectiveness to lift participants out of poverty. Communities as a whole, which benefit from having these programs, are now unfortunately and unfairly penalized by the elimination or decline of such programs.

We strongly urge you to thoroughly review the Department’s procedures with respect to providing assistance to programs combating homelessness and to appropriately exercise your authority in providing support for these types of programs that include families, youth, and children and the community-based program models that serve them well by enabling them to increase their incomes and educational attainment, maintain sobriety, and acquire permanent life skills that will help prevent them from returning to a life of homelessness.

In order to support these families and their children, we also urge you to end the recommended scoring guidelines that currently punish programs that prioritize work, education, and sobriety. We believe that families have the best opportunity to escape dependence on public assistance when they are supported in their recovery and given education, training and work opportunities.

We look forward to working with you to break the intergenerational cycle of family homelessness by promoting programs that serve families and provide safe and drug free housing.  Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact Robert Rische in Congressman Issa’s office at (202) 225-3906 or robert.rische@mail.house.gov.

Sincerely,

Darrell Issa (CA-49)
Don Bacon (NE-02)
Andy Barr (KY-06)
Mike Conaway (TX-11)
Scott DesJarlais (TN-04)
Trent Franks (AZ-08)
Glenn Grothman (WI-06)
Randy Hultgren (IL-14)
Mike Johnson (LA-04)
Doug LaMalfa (CA-01)
Roger Marshall (KS-01)
Mark Meadows (NC-11)
Luke Messer (IN-06)
Alex Mooney (WV-02)
Gary Palmer (AL-06)
Steve Pearce (NM-02)
Robert Pittenger (NC-09)
David Rouzer (NC-07)
Steve Stivers (OH-15)
Mark Walker (NC-06)
Joe Wilson (SC-02)
Ted Yoho (FL-03)
Ted Budd (NC-13)

Ben Carson to keynote Hillsborough GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner

Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Donald Trump administration, will be the keynote speaker for the Hillsborough County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner scheduled for June 9.

That announcement was made Tuesday night by Deborah Tamargo, the chair of the Hillsborough GOP, at the party’s monthly meeting in Tampa.

Congressmen Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan and Dennis Ross will also appear at the dinner, as will House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

A native of Detroit, Carson grew up poor and was raised by his single mother, eventually graduating from Yale University and University of Michigan Medical School.

In 1984, Carson became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. At age 33, he was the youngest doctor in America to rise to that position.

Carson earned worldwide recognition in 1987 when he led the team performing the first successful separation of conjoined twins, Benjamin and Patrick Binder, who were joined at the head. The procedure took five months of planning, and the surgery was over 22 hours using a 70-person team. He is also credited with discovering hemispherectomy, a procedure where half a brain is removed in a patient to cure certain brain diseases causing seizures.

Carson documented his life story in an autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” which made him a national hero, particularly among African-Americans. He has written several books since, including “One Nation,” which became a New York Times best-seller in 2014.

In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded Carson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a civilian.

After ending a Republican bid for president in 2016, Carson — an early Trump supporter — became Trump’s pick for HUD secretary in February 2017. The U.S. Senate confirmed him March 2 on a 51-48 vote. He was a controversial nominee because of his lack of experience in either housing or development, or government in general.

Ben Carson gets stuck in elevator on Miami housing tour

The Miami leg of U.S. Housing and Development Secretary Ben Carson‘s national listening tour started with a glitch.

Carson got briefly stuck in an elevator after a visit Wednesday to the rooftop of the Courtside Family Apartments, a complex co-developed by former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning and his non-profit AM Affordable Housing.

The Miami Herald reports that Mourning arrived a few minutes late, so Carson and Miami-Dade County Public Housing Director Michael Liu began the tour without him. They got stuck along with five other people on the way down.

The elevator descended safely but the doors were jammed, so Miami-Dade Fire Rescue crews had to pry them open. Carson smiled as he emerged from the elevator, and Mourning apologized profusely.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Al Lawson talk HUD reform in Jacksonville

Jacksonville’s Eureka Garden apartment complex has been in the news for a number of years.

First came the crime reports. Then came reports about mold, broken windows, gas leaks, and other infrastructural nightmares for the 400-unit HUD complex on Jacksonville’s Westside.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called for reforms to the HUD process, and for new ownership.

And right now, the ownership transition is underway.

Millennia Housing Management took over the management of the complex from the still-current owners, Global Ministries Foundation.

MHM is ready to put capital in; however, until formal transfer of the GMF portfolio concludes, there’s only so much they will invest.

And therein lies an issue for the long-suffering Eureka Garden residents.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson has made Eureka a focus, discussing issues at the complex during his 2016 campaign, and visiting the apartments during his last Congressional recess.

Tuesday saw Lawson double down — accompanied by another newcomer to Washington, D.C., in HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Sen. Rubio.

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At a church near Eureka Garden, the politicians sat down with Jacksonville City Councilmen and other local stakeholders, as Secretary Carson discussed his plans for reform.

Before doing that, he lauded local officials for demonstrating the “leadership” that has brought the issues at Eureka into the “spotlight.”

Carson described a holistic vision of reform, one which went beyond subsidized housing.

The Secretary advocated for community clinics, “so the Emergency Room doesn’t become the primary care vehicle.”

He also advocated the importance of education, making the case for vouchers, and for more changes to the Section 8 model.

Among those proposals: a “housing savings account,” which would allow residents to save a bit of money every month, either to defray the cost of repairs (“doors scratched up” and other such issues).

“If those things aren’t happening,” Carson said, money “starts to accumulate,” and after a number of years, there may be sufficient money for a down payment on a house.

Carson, after musing on problems with America’s multi-party system, and people outside the country watching to see if they should “destroy [Americans] or wait for them to destroy themselves, noted that there’s “a lot of hysteria about people going to be thrown out onto the street.”

Carson says that won’t happen; however, America’s ponderous national debt requires a focus on using money efficiently and effectively, with an eye toward getting the greatest “bang for the buck.”

Part of that strategy: public-private partnerships, with “federal money leveraged with the private sector.”

President Donald Trump wants a $1T investment in infrastructure; much of that, Carson said, will go to housing.

Carson also wants “vision centers” near HUD complexes, which will be “places where young people can learn about careers.”

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Rep. Lawson told us about how he made the visit happen, writing Secretary Carson in February.

“I told him he really needed to come to Eureka Garden,” Lawson said.

Lawson sees the changes at Eureka — which look to be complete in the next couple of years, pending the transfer of the property — as a model for the rest of the country, potentially.

While Rep. Lawson isn’t completely sold on concepts like housing savings accounts, saying they might have more utility for younger people rather than older residents, he appreciates Sec. Carson’s interest, and anticipates a strong working relationship while both are in Washington.

Pam Bondi to host White House ‘women’s empowerment panel’ Wednesday

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is D.C. bound this week, once again increasing speculation that she might be eyeing a job in the White House before her term ends in 2019.

Bondi is scheduled to moderate a “women’s empowerment panel” Wednesday, featuring some of the top women in President Donald Trump’s administration.

Panelists include Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, SBA Administrator Linda McMahon, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Verma has played a role in the Trump administration’s early messaging in the Sunshine State.

Last weekend, she was part of the Jacksonville pitch of the Affordable Health Care Act, a pitch that proved ill-fated as Republican support for the Obamacare reform didn’t even make it to a floor vote before the Trump Administration had the bill pulled.

The panel comes on the heels of a trip to Washington, D.C. on Monday, where Bondi met with Trump and two Cabinet secretaries on children’s issues.

According to POLITICO Florida, Bondi brought former Tony Dungy, the former Tampa Bay Buccanneers football coach who has become a children’s rights advocate; Derrick Brooks, the former Florida State University and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Hall of Fame linebacker who co-founded a charter school; and Mark Merrrill, an activist with All Pro Dads with her to talk with DeVos and HUD Secretary Ben Carson about children’s issues.

Bondi said she was happy with her work in Florida, and told POLITICO Florida she was working on “some special projects with the White House.”

An early supporter of Trump, Bondi has often been mentioned as a someone who might join the Trump administration. Bondi has long dismissed rumors, saying she was happy with her current job.

Senate panel approves Nikki Haley nomination to U.N.

The Latest on activities in Congress (all times EST):

12:25 p.m.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has overwhelmingly approved South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley‘s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

By voice vote, the panel recommended President Donald Trump‘s selection of Haley to the full Senate. She is expected to be confirmed easily.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, backed Haley’s nomination. Cardin says what Haley lacks in foreign policy experience, “she makes up for in capability, intelligence, and a track record of building coalitions in South Carolina.”

During her confirmation hearing, Haley declared her support for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The shift may trigger increased violence in the Middle East.

Haley also took a hard line against Russia. She says she doesn’t think Moscow can be trusted right now.

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12:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s pick for health secretary is adamant that the new administration will protect people with pre-existing medical problems even as it moves to repeal the Obama-era law prohibiting insurance discrimination.

Georgia Rep. Tom Price told the Senate Finance Committee that “we need to make sure nobody loses their insurance or is unable to gain insurance because of pre-existing conditions.” Price was being questioned by Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

But the way Republicans would go about guaranteeing coverage could be very different. They are looking at special “high-risk” insurance pools as a last resort for people who can’t get coverage otherwise. That hasn’t worked well in the past, providing costly coverage to a limited number of people.

Price said “nobody ought to be priced out of the market for having a bad diagnosis.”

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12:15 p.m.

Health care plan? What health care plan?

Laughter erupted during a tense Senate confirmation hearing when Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, asked President Donald Trump’s health nominee if it’s true that the new administration is close to having a final health care plan — as Trump himself has hinted.

“It’s true that he said that, yes,” responded Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who’s been picked by Trump to run the Health and Human Services department. Trump and congressional Republicans have committed to repealing and replacing President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, but they haven’t provided details on how that can be done without harming millions who’ve gained coverage.

Price said he has had conversations with Trump about health care policy. And Brown didn’t press him for more details.

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11:52 a.m.

Health secretary nominee Tom Price says science shows that vaccines do not cause autism. That’s a position that goes against views espoused by President Donald Trump, who has voiced skepticism about vaccine safety.

Price’s comments Tuesday came in response to questions by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., at a Finance Committee hearing on his nomination.

Price also disputed claims that abortion leads to breast cancer. He said the science is relatively clear that it does not.

If confirmed to head the Department of Health and Human Services, Price pledged to make certain that factual information, validated by science, is provided to the public. Under the umbrella of HHS are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.

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11: 45 a.m.

Donald Trump’s pick to head the White House budget office says Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid need significant changes to be preserved for future generations.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney‘s testimony before Congress stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s campaign promises not to cut the programs. Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, said he wouldn’t propose to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits for people already receiving them.

But, he said, younger workers should expect to work longer than their parents. He also said Medicare should be means tested, which means benefits would be limited for wealthy retirees. They already pay higher premiums.

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11:25 a.m.

President Donald’s Trump’s pick for budget director says he failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a babysitter because he did not consider her a household employee.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney said, “We made a mistake.” The South Carolina Republican said his wife had triplets in 2000 and they hired a babysitter. She worked for the family for four years but, Mulvaney said, she did not live with them.

Mulvaney said he didn’t realize that he should have paid the taxes until he was preparing for the nominating process. He said he has since paid the taxes.

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11:20 a.m.

Rep. Tom Price — President Donald Trump’s nominee for health secretary — is defending his decision to invest in health care companies as a powerful member of Congress.

Price’s nomination hearing Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee quickly turned testy.

Top Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon questioned Price about his investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian drug company trying to develop a treatment for multiple sclerosis. A fellow Republican congressman is a board member and a major stockholder.

Finance committee staffers found that Price undervalued around 400,000 shares of Innate stock he purchased last August. He reported the shares were worth $50,000 to $100,000, but those shares were worth up to $250,000.

Price blamed a “clerical error” and answered “no” when Wyden asked if he’d used poor judgment.

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11:10 a.m.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee has unanimously approved President Donald Trump’s nominee for housing secretary, Ben Carson.

The former Republican presidential candidate and celebrated neurosurgeon would lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a sprawling agency with 8,300 employees and a budget of about $47 billion. His nomination now heads to the full Senate.

Committee Chairman Michael Crapo of Idaho praised Carson and his impressive career, saying HUD “will benefit from having a secretary with a different perspective and a diverse background.”

Ranking Democrat Sherrod Brown said he had some reservations but welcomed Carson’s promises to address lead hazards in public housing.

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11:10 a.m.

Former wrestling entertainment executive Linda McMahon is emphasizing her experience in building a business from scratch as she seeks to become the next administrator of the Small Business Administration.

McMahon says in a confirmation hearing Tuesday that she and her husband started out sharing a desk and went on to build a company with more than 800 employees.

She also notes that she and her husband once declared bankruptcy and lost their home, saying “I know what it’s like to take a hit.”

McMahon resigned from WWE in 2009 before running unsuccessfully on two occasions for the U.S. Senate.

She spent about $100 million of her own money in those races and was a big contributor to political action committees seeking to help Donald Trump in November’s election.

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11:00 a.m.

President Donald Trump has invited the Senate leadership to the White House to discuss the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

That’s the word from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican said Tuesday that he, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the leaders of the Judiciary Committee would meet with Trump on Tuesday afternoon.

The court has had one vacancy since last February when Justice Antonin Scalia died. McConnell and Republicans refused to consider former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

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10:55 a.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders says President Donald Trump’s nominee for budget director should be disqualified because he failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household worker more than a decade ago.

Sanders, an independent from Vermont, is the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. The committee held a confirmation hearing Tuesday on Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.

Sanders noted that Mulvaney voted for a bill in 2015 that would disqualify people with serious tax delinquencies from being federal employees.

Mulvaney said he discovered the unpaid taxes while preparing for the nominating process. He has since paid the taxes.

Unpaid taxes have derailed some previous Cabinet picks, but others were confirmed anyway. Mulvaney’s tax problem is unlikely to derail his nomination if Republicans remain united behind him.

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10:50 a.m.

A Senate panel has easily approved the nomination of Elaine Chao to lead the Transportation Department.

Chao was labor secretary in President George W. Bush‘s administration and deputy transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush. She is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and was known to many senators before President Donald Trump tapped her for his Cabinet.

Chao told senators during a hearing on her nomination this month that she hopes to “unleash the potential” of private investors to boost infrastructure spending.

She is expected to play a major role in Trump’s effort to fulfill his campaign promise to generate $1 trillion in infrastructure investment. The administration is expected to release its infrastructure plan this spring.

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10:45 a.m.

A Senate panel has approved President Donald Trump’s choice of conservative billionaire investor Wilbur Ross to lead the Commerce Department.

Ross has specialized in buying distressed companies that still have a potential for delivering profits. He has known Trump for more than 20 years, was an early supporter of his presidential campaign and an economic policy adviser to Trump’s team.

The Senate commerce committee approved his nomination by a voice vote. The full Senate must still vote on the nomination.

Ross has been a critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which he blames for a loss of U.S. jobs. He has also accused China of protectionist policies.

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10:35 a.m.

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee has forced a one-week delay in the committee vote on attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein says one reason she asked for the delay until Jan. 31 is because of women who marched in Washington and other locations on Saturday. Feinstein said the women want equal rights and pay, rights for workers and protections for the environment.

“It is these principles, these values that the attorney general must defend,” Feinstein said at a committee meeting Tuesday.

She said “we owe it to” those women to be careful in considering the nomination.

Feinstein said the committee received 188 pages of new material Sunday that need to be reviewed. Committee rules allow any member of the committee to delay a vote.

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10:20 a.m.

Breaking with President Donald Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan says he has seen no evidence that 3 million to 5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally voted last November and cost the Republican the popular vote.

Ryan told reporters on Tuesday: “I’ve already commented on that I’ve seen no evidence to that effect.”

His comments came hours after Trump incorrectly claimed at a White House reception with congressional leaders, including Ryan, that he lost the popular vote to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton because of the vote by those here illegally.

That’s according to a Democratic aide familiar with the exchange who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

Another Republican, Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, said Trump needs to move on. “The election is over,” Dent said, and Trump “won fair and square.” Trump needs to “get to the serious business of governing,” Dent said.

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10:05 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he has invited President Donald Trump to address a Joint Session of Congress on Feb. 28.

Ryan announced the invitation on Tuesday, informing reporters after a meeting with House Republicans. Ryan had met with Trump Monday night at the White House. Trump also met with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders on Monday.

Trump was sworn in as the 45th president on Friday. It would be his first speech to Congress.

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10 a.m.

Congressional analysts are projecting that President Donald Trump has inherited a stable economy and a government that is on track to run a $559 billion budget deficit for the ongoing budget year.

The new estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office also say the economy will hold relatively steady. Economic growth is projected to rise slightly to 2.3 percent this year and unemployment to average less than 5 percent for the duration of Trump’s term.

The latest CBO figures are in line with previous projections. They come as Trump and Republicans controlling Congress are working to repeal much of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, boost the Pentagon budget, and reform the loophole-cluttered tax code.

Balancing the budget would require cuts to domestic agencies and big health programs like Medicare.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Week 1: Cabinet picks contradict Donald Trump stands on some issues

The lack of fireworks surrounding Senate consideration of President-elect Donald Trump‘s Cabinet picks may reflect a slew of statements his choices have made contradicting the billionaire businessman’s position on key issues.

Trump acknowledged the differences early Friday, posting a message on his Twitter account saying: “All my Cabinet nominee are looking good and doing a great job. I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”

This week’s confirmation hearings produced an odd political chemistry where, for instance, one of the harshest examinations of a Trump Cabinet choice came from one of Trump’s fellow Republicans, presidential campaign rival Sen. Marco Rubio.

Despite Democrats’ dismay over some of Trump’s selections, the hearings were relatively tranquil, with Democrats generally restrained even in quizzing the more contentious picks. The reason, according to a few Democrats: The nominees are proving more palatable than Trump himself.

“As I meet members of the Cabinet I’m puzzled because many of them sound reasonable,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “Far more reasonable than their president.”

That could change in weeks to come, because some of the most potentially explosive hearings are still pending, including the scrutiny of former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin for Treasury secretary.

Several of Trump’s Cabinet selections this week made statements this week contradicting policy stances espoused by their soon-to-be boss on issues ranging from Russia and NATO to climate change and Muslims.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, picked for attorney general, said he’s against any outright ban on immigration by Muslims, in contrast to Trump’s onetime call to suspend admittance of Muslims until U.S. officials could learn more about nature of the threat of extremism.

His secretary of state candidate, Rex Tillerson, took a relatively hard line on Washington’s dealings with Russia, even though Trump has been talking about improving relations between Washington and Moscow and held out for days before saying he accepted the intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow meddled in the U.S. election process.

Tillerson demurred, however, when one senator tried to lure him into calling President Vladimir Putin, whom he knows, a “war criminal,” although he emphasized support for NATO commitments that Trump had questioned. The secretary-of-state designate also said the United States should not back away from its efforts against nuclear proliferation, notwithstanding Trump’s suggestion earlier this year that some key U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea provide their own defense.

Some of the toughest questioning of Tillerson came not from Democrats but from Rubio, who grilled the Exxon Mobil executive on human rights issues.

As Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing approaches, Democrats have set up a website to solicit stories from the thousands of people whose homes were foreclosed on by OneWest Bank while he headed a group of investors who owned the bank. They hope to use Mnuchin’s nomination hearing to attack Trump’s populist appeal with working-class voters and cast themselves as defenders of the middle class.

Thus far, though, Republicans are congratulating themselves for generally smooth sailing. And overall, the lack of drama may also be due to the decision by Democrats while in the Senate majority to lower the vote threshold for Cabinet nominees and others from 60 votes to 50, allowing Republicans to ensure approval as long as they can hold their 52-seat majority together.

“The purpose of confirmation hearings is to examine the record and views of potential nominees and I think that’s what these hearings are doing,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “I think it’s likely that all of the Cabinet nominees are going to be confirmed, I think the hearings have gone quite well this week.”

A hearing Thursday for neurosurgeon Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development featured some pointed questioning from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but also warm exchanges between Carson and other committee Democrats. Afterward Carson thanked the panel and said that it “was actually kind of fun.”

Sessions was denied confirmation once before by the Senate, but that was three decades ago for a federal judgeship. This time around the Alabaman is a sitting senator and was treated gently, for the most part, by his colleagues, even when Democrats brought up the racial issues that brought him down him last time around. There was potential for drama as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., broke with Senate tradition to testify against his colleague, but it came on the second day of the hearing after Sessions had finished testifying, so he was not even in the room.

Tillerson had the rockiest outing thus far, with Rubio pressing him on Russia and Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon confronting him about climate change and other issues. With Rubio and others undecided on supporting Tillerson, his ultimate confirmation is in question. But even with Tillerson, Democrats seemed to pull their punches at times.

“I don’t want to argue with you,” Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico remarked at one point, seeming to speak for several colleagues.

And it was practically bipartisan lovefests at the hearings for the choices for Central Intelligence Agency, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo; retired Gen. James Mattis for Defense; and retired Gen. John Kelly for Homeland Security.

“Pompeo’s very popular, Mattis, Kelly — these are popular selections,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The hearings seemed to underscore some emerging dynamics of Trump’s relations with Capitol Hill. Despite his highly unconventional approach, and his lack of Capitol Hill experience, many of his appointees and aides could have been selected by any other Republican, and the Senate is responding accordingly.

And even where Trump’s surprising approach raises the potential for problems, congressional Republicans are working overtime to paper them over, not highlight them.

“We are in complete sync,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., insisted Thursday in a discussion about a different topic, health care.

That could change in weeks to come, as the Senate holds hearings on Mnuchin and other more divisive selections. These include conservative Rep. Tom Price for Health and Human Services; Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a vocal denier of climate change science, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; and fast-food executive Andrew Puzder to head the Labor Department.

Still, given that it’s the Senate, not daytime TV, there may be a limit to the potential for conflict, said Ben Marter, Durbin’s communications director. “You have to adjust your excite-o-meter down a little bit, because it’s a Senate hearing. It’s not Maury Povich.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ben Carson nominated for Housing and Urban Development secretary

Palm Beach neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is Donald Trump‘s pick to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Trump’s transition office announced the nomination Monday, bringing his once rival but early supporter into the cabinet discussion for his administration.

“I am thrilled to nominate Dr. Ben Carson as our next Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities,” Trump stated in a news release. “We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities. Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a presidency representing all Americans. He is a tough competitor and never gives up.”

“He is a tough competitor and never gives up.”

Carson ran a up-by-your-bootstraps campaign that placed him briefly among the top challengers to Trump’s steamroll primary bid last winter.

Frequently, Carson spoke of finding ways to get people, particularly African-Americans such as himself, out of government-supported lives. His conservative views also extended to science, as he has questioned tenants of science ranging from evolution to the Big Bang Theory, leading Democrats to ridicule him widely.

A Detroit native, Carson, 65, is a retired neurosurgeon, educated at Yale University and trained as a doctor the University of Michigan. He served as director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland and retired in Florida.

After dropping out of the presidential race in March, he quickly endorsed Trump in a news conference, declaring they had buried their hatchets. That news conference sparked immediate talk of the prospect Carson might serve in a Trump administration.

Carson said both he and Trump committed to working together if Trump won.

“I am honored to accept the opportunity to serve our country in the Trump administration,” Carson said. “I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly by strengthening communities that are most in need. We have much work to do in enhancing every aspect of our nation and ensuring that our nation’s housing needs are met.”

 

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