WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Ben Carson, Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of Housing and Urban Development, on Thursday said that while he would work to the benefit of all Americans, he refused to vow his efforts would not financially benefit the Trump estate during his confirmation hearing.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, told the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee there was a connection between housing issues and health issues, which made him qualified to lead HUD.
HUD has an annual budget of nearly $50 billion. The agency manages a $1.6 trillion mortgage portfolio and oversees the majority of the United States' affordable housing programs, but also plays a role in education, transportation and community redevelopment.
The size and influence of HUD could lead to circumstances in which Trump's businesses, particularly real estate, could benefit, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, said.
"Can you assure me that not a single taxpayer dollar that you give out will financially benefit the president elect or his family?" Warren asked Carson.
"I can assure you that the things that I do are driven by a sense of morals and values, and, therefore, I will absolutely not play favorites for anyone," Carson replied.
"Do I take that to mean that you might manage programs that will significantly benefit the president-elect?" Warren asked.
"You can take it to mean that I will manage things in a way that benefits the American people. That is going to be the goal. If there happens to be an extraordinarily good program that's working for millions of people and it turns out that someone that you're targeting is going to gain, you know $10 from it, am I going to say 'no, the rest of you Americans can't have it?' I think logic and common sense probably would be the best way," Carson said.
"Although, we do have a problem ... The problem is that you can't assure us that HUD money, not of $10 varieties, but of multi-million dollar varieties, will not end up in the president-elect's pockets, and the reason you can't assure us of that is because the president-elect is hiding his family's business interests from you, from me, from the rest of America," Warren said. "And this just highlights the absurdity and the danger of the president-elect's refusal to put his assets in a true blind trust."
Top ethics official in the U.S. government on Wednesday dismissed Trump's promise to cede day-to-day control of his businesses to family members as nothing more than a "meaningless" symbolic gesture.
Carson has limited experience in housing or management, but in 2015 he wrote an op-ed in which he criticized a housing desegregation rule by President Barack Obama's HUD as an experimentation with "failed socialism."
Senators questioned whether he would enforce the Fair Housing Act and a new rule requiring communities to assess whether they have patterns of segregation.
"I don't have any problem with affirmative action or integration," Carson testified. "But I do have a problem with people on high dictating it when they don't know what's going on in the area."
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., asked Carson if he would aggressively enforce the Fair Housing Act, which provides access to free of discrimination and investigates race and national origin complaints.
"Absolutely," he said.
But when she brought up the new HUD rule that requires local communities to assess patterns of racial and income segregation and make genuine plans to address them, Carson was not so absolute.
"I will be working with local HUD officials and communities to make sure fairness is carried out," Carson said.
Sen. Warren to Dr. Carson: "You can't assure us that HUD money ... will not end up in the President-elect's pockets" https://t.co/254Sw602Hf— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 12, 2017
Taylor Goebel of Medill News Service contributed to this report.