"I certainly hope you're planning to be with me all seven years." That's the first thing President Donald Trump said to Ben Carson during a recent meeting, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development tells Newsmax.
That will undoubtedly surprise some, coming after widespread speculation last month Carson was on his way out of the Cabinet.
Carson's relationship with Trump, as well as his vision for the HUD and urban America were some of the things the only black member of the president's Cabinet discussed with Newsmax in an exclusive sitdown Wednesday.
Trump reportedly was furious over widespread press reports in March that Carson had attempted to buy a $31,000 new dining room set for his 10th floor office at the department's Washington, D.C., building.
Carson received a three-page letter from the House Government Reform Committee demanding information about the situation. The letter was followed by a hearing in which the secretary testified. Eventually the dining room set order was canceled.
"This was just the latest," Carson said, expressing his frustration with news reports he believes unfairly target him. "It's been this way since I've been here: 'He goes to the Bible meetings, he's eating a donut the taxpayers paid for, he's trying to fire people he doesn't know even exist' — one thing after another. It's frustrating."
The stalwart conservative believes the liberal media is so intent on bringing him down "they settled on the furniture and thought, 'This is something we can make stick.'
"The bottom line is, I found out about the furniture, we canceled the order, zero cost to the taxpayer. We put in place regulations and controls so that that kind of thing can never happen again. That's what people should be happy with."
Pursuing Reform at HUD
Carson, 51, believes the liberal media is far from done with him.
"It's no secret that for much of the liberal establishment, a black conservative is totally unacceptable," he said. "They simply don't believe in the concept of a person being able to think for themselves and not subscribe to their philosophy. To me, that's the definition of racism — when you take somebody and, based on the color of their skin, you decide what they are supposed to think."
The thunder created by left-wing media will be no more than background noise, Carson insists, as he pursues an agenda of reform at HUD. Contrary to many conservatives and to the Republican Party's platforms from 1980-96, he is not in favor of abolishing HUD.
"Would it be nice if we didn't need the department of HUD?" he said. "But we do need it. And so my focus will be [to be] as effective as possible in helping people, economically empowering people to climb those ladders and to become part of the fabric of America."
The acclaimed neurosurgeon and 2016 Republican presidential candidate is focused on maximizing the impact of his slimmed-down budget and believes he can use existing programs to improve the chances of the underprivileged finding greater opportunities.
He cited Section 3, a little-known part of the HUD regulations, that, in Carson's words, "says that to receive HUD funding, you have an obligation to train, hire, and give contracts to local low-income people. It's a very good idea that hasn't been utilized very much."
The secretary proudly pointed out that his department is encouraging communities to "actually use [Section 3] because when you think about skilled jobs, right now there are 6.5 million skilled jobs in America that are vacant. If we can start filling those jobs with our population, at the same time creating self-sufficiency so that people move out of an assisted situation, that makes more room for others" who truly need assistance.
The secretary is not wringing his hands over the Trump administration's budget proposal calling for a $6.2 billion cut to HUD.
"You know, as a nation we have a $21 trillion national debt," he said, "and by the end of the year 2048, every penny the federal government takes in will be used to service the debt. That means there won't be money for anything, because we won't be talking about cutting the budget because there won't be any budget. We have to start thinking about that and not playing ostrich."
Carson cited the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program that has been a part of HUD for 44 years as an example of where cuts can be made without harm.
"The CDBG program has done a lot of good things in terms of affordable housing, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of small business," he said. "But it has also been diverted into many things that were not in the original plan. And we have no problem with the good things it has done. But we are looking at reformulating things in a way [where] we maintain the good things but get rid of the wasteful things."
One example of waste, says Carson, is the program's money previously being used for clinics to neuter dogs. "I don't have anything against that, but that's not what this program is for," he said.
"We're supposed to be targeting the low income people and helping them to be able to live in a better way. Right now, the thing we are concentrating on is also giving them ladders of opportunity so that they can climb out of dependency."
As for his relationship with the president, Carson told Newsmax he welcomes Trump's candor.
"One of the things that impresses me about him is that he doesn't put on airs," Carson said. "He's very down to earth, and willing to talk about the things that aren't perfect with him. I don't want to say what those things are, but he does realize he is an imperfect human being and is willing to work on that."
Carson has known Trump since 2013, when the Maryland physician moved to West Palm Beach, Florida.
After withdrawing from the 2016 presidential race, Carson promptly endorsed his former rival and vigorously campaigned for him. He clearly is still solidly in the president's corner, telling Newsmax, "I love the fact he is willing to push back against the status quo and to actually do the things the American people want done."
One of the things Carson wants is to use his post to break a cycle of dependency, a goal that he puts above any talk of his own legacy.
"I'm always asked, 'What do you want your legacy to be?' It's not about me," Carson said. "It's about how we can get people out of dependency and use their God-given talents to improve their own lives and thereby empowering the nation as a whole. That's what I'm about."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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