Interviews

Ben Carson addresses HUD budget cuts, 'immigrants' controversy

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development weighs in on 'Your World'

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," March 20, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, no sooner is he in the job running Housing and Urban Development than -- the new secretary of that department, Ben Carson finds out he's looking at a better than 13 percent budget cut, a little bit more than $6 billion.

He can deal with that, he says. As to how much gets cut and where it gets cut is anyone's guess.

Ben Carson with us right now.

Secretary, good to have you here.

BEN CARSON, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY: It's good to be back with you, Neil.

CAVUTO: Did you know the cut would be that big, sir?

CARSON: Well, we certainly anticipated that there would be cuts, because, you know, we have to think seriously about the future of our country, about our children and our grandchildren.

And we must also recognize that we have a government that is compassionate for all of the people, and that we will be carefully examining every program. And we will find ways to make sure that vital programs are taken care of, that people who are truly in need are taken care of. That will never be an issue with this administration.

CAVUTO: But who makes that call? Would it be you? Because we separately heard, Secretary, that the administration put sort of watchers in there, I guess, to sort of police various departments and also the secretaries.

A, is that true? And, B, is it happening to you?

CARSON: We're working closely with the White House with complete harmony.  Not a problem, and also recognize that, as far as housing is concerned, it's a part of the infrastructure of this country.

And everyone from the president down agrees that that is the case. And it will be -- take all the infrastructure issues, including housing, will be very important to this administration.

CAVUTO: So, by that, I take it to mean that, since infrastructure is something the president wants to address and boost, that in the end what might be cut near-term will be replaced longer-term for HUD? Am I hearing that right, or no?

CARSON: Yes.

The fact of the matter is, we will be examining all of the programs quite carefully, looking for things that work, expanding on those things, looking at things that don't work, determining whether we can make them work or whether we need to shift in another direction.

These are all in the process of being analyzed very carefully. But the important point to keep in mind is that those who are most vulnerable and are most in need will be taken care of.

CAVUTO: I mentioned these embedded appointees on the part of President Trump, Secretary.

And The Washington Post explained it and later on TheHill.com and some of the others is that every Cabinet agency -- I'm quoting here -- "has an embedded appointee with the title of senior White House adviser who is situated near the secretary's office. The appointees report to the Office of Cabinet Affairs, instead of the Cabinet secretary."

Is that true in your case?

CARSON: I haven't noticed that, no.

There are individuals in the Department of HUD who also have close ties with the White House, as I do. And we're all working together to make this work. I don't see any conflict whatsoever.

CAVUTO: All right. So, some of these other reports we're getting from the same sources, sir, so, if you will indulge me, where the secretaries feel offended and miffed by this and don't allow these advisers to meetings, you have had nothing like that?

CARSON: I have had nothing like that. I have had complete harmony. And it's working extremely well.

CAVUTO: OK.

Are you fighting any of these proposed budget cuts?

CARSON: We are working to identify the areas where we may need more funding.

And we will find ways to obtain that, both through this administration and through the private sector.

CAVUTO: You know, Secretary, all of this comes at a time when people have been raising questions about how much is cuttable in each department, if you will pardon my phrasing here, and that part of this is a strategy built on putting great emphasis into homeland security and defense spending, not so much on domestic departments and what they're doing on -- in housing, in health and human services, that sort of thing.

Do you get the feeling that that is -- you have to take some of that pound of flesh from areas like defense that are going to get more money?

CARSON: Well, there's no question that there may have been some reshuffling of priorities.

I don't think anybody is saying that the domestic spending isn't important.  But I think at a time when the world is getting extraordinarily dangerous, at a time when half of our planes are not capable of flying, and so many other severe issues as far as our defense is concerned, we do have to pay some attention to it.

But keep in mind one of the things that I found in my recent visit to Detroit is that they were leveraging the federal dollars at a rate of 8-1, which allowed for a lot of very sources to be poured into rehabilitation.

And they're on an upward trajectory that is very, very significant. These are things that we really should be looking at. There's a lot of money in the private sector, in these public-private partnerships, as well as the relationships with the faith community, are going to be enormously important for domestic issues.

CAVUTO: You're talking about leveraging off whatever federal funding is available, in this case, moneys that might be earmarked -- bad word -- for, let's say, Detroit, you could leverage that up eight times in private donations, that sort of thing.

CARSON: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

CARSON: And the things that have been done are absolutely wonderful.

If you look at the some of the villages for the elderly, the mixed-income and the low-income, beautifully kept, and either built or reconditioned for reasonable prices. These are the kinds of things that need to be done in a large way across this country, because we have three to four times as many people in need of affordable housing as we're able to provide.

But if we start looking at ways of leveraging and doing things in an efficient way, I believe that we can increase that number significantly.

CAVUTO: Doctor, Secretary, when it comes to entitlement programs, it's always in the eye of the beholder, of course.

You could argue that many of the programs that you oversee, like Meals on Wheels and others, where rumored budget cuts were happening, it hearkened back to something you said during your confirmation process, sir, when you said, when it comes to entitlement programs, it's cruel and unusual punishment to withdraw these programs before you provide an alternative route.

The criticism your boss, the president, is getting is that -- and maybe it's just the administration approach to this -- cut first, deal with the fallout later.

Do you agree with that? Are you worried about that?

CARSON: Well, keep in mind that, you know, the CDBG is not the primary funder of Meals on Wheels. Much more of that comes from HHS, live-in communities and programs of that nature.

And you look at New York City. Meals on Wheels there is not even funded through our department at all. It's through public-private partnerships.  So, I think maybe the emphasis is in the wrong place there.

CAVUTO: You know, it's interesting.

They do these polls all the time, as I'm sure you're aware, Secretary. And one is that the Republican caucuses were held today, you would be leading.  You would be leading over Donald Trump. You would have 28 percent of the vote, 20 percent for Donald Trump.

I don't know if that means anything. I just thought I would pass it along.  What did you think of that?

(LAUGHTER)

CARSON: Well, I have found a tremendous amount of goodwill.

And it's not really about me. It's not about Donald Trump. It's not about any one person. It's about how we can work together, and not just Republicans, but Democrats as well. And we need to make the focus the people. This is about the people.

We in government are servants of the people, and we would do well to keep that in mind. And if we did that, we would be much less likely to get involved in these partisan squabbles that actually impact the people in a negative way.

CAVUTO: How do you feel about the way the press corps seized on your remarks -- and I don't want to belabor them -- about the immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships, they worked their way up through -- harder for less.

And you echoed comments that no less than Barack Obama had made, I think up to a dozen different times, when he had said, "Whether our ancestors landed on Ellis Island, or came here on a slave ship across the Rio Grande, we are all connected to one another. We rise and fall together."

No one said boo about that to him. They all jumped ugly on you. What did you think of that?

CARSON: Well, you know, I was kind of used to that, having run for president.

(LAUGHTER)

CARSON: Every morning, when I would get up and read an account of something that I had said, and I said, who are they talking about?

That's par for the course.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But you did say that. The thing is that President Obama said that and then some 11 other times, and yet it never, ever was cited.

CARSON: Yes.

Well, they couldn't find anything else to jump on, so they jumped on that.  I thought it was rather funny after it came to light that the former president had said that. They all kind of slinked back into the shadows.

CAVUTO: Your thought. You're new at this. You're new at public service in this Capacity. You see what is happening right now. Any quick take on those who are just saying this administration is off to a troublesome start? What do you say?

CARSON: I think it's off to a fabulous start.

I have had an opportunity to talk with many of the other Cabinet members and members at the White House. And there's a sense of mission here, that we're going to really get something accomplished here. This is not about politics.

This is about fulfilling the promises that were made to the people and honoring the pledges that we have made to them.

CAVUTO: Ben Carson, thank you very much, sir, for taking the time. We appreciate it.

CARSON: Always a pleasure, Neil. Thank you.

CAVUTO: He is the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, better known as HUD, Ben Carson.

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