Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, took responsibility on Thursday for buying a $31,000 dining room set for his office, two days after saying his wife and assistant oversaw a purchase that has jeopardized his place in President Trump’s cabinet.
Mr. Carson faced withering criticism from Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the Department of Housing and Urban Development. One senator, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, suggested that he regretted being one of the few Democrats to support the secretary’s nomination a year ago.
“I voted to confirm you,” said Mr. Brown, who is up for re-election this year. “Four other Democrats on this committee voted to confirm you. I’m not sure I made the right decision.”
In recent days, Mr. Carson’s aides have repeatedly advised him to apologize for the purchase, arguing that doing so was the only way to move on, according to several people with knowledge of the situation. But Mr. Carson, who has privately fumed about what he regards as the unfairness of being singled out for criticism, resisted doing so until Thursday’s hearing, when one of the panel’s Republicans, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, gently prodded him to be more contrite.
“I take responsibility,” Mr. Carson said.
Later, he suggested the episode had been a personal ordeal, saying that he modeled his reaction to the criticism on advice that Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount, which he summarized as “don’t worry about what people are saying about you, and do the right thing.”
Mr. Carson’s tone was markedly different on Tuesday, when he told a House subcommittee that he had dealt himself out of the decision-making chain on the dining room set, despite internal department emails showing that he had participated in the selection of specific pieces of furniture last summer.
“I invited my wife to come and help,” Mr. Carson said on Tuesday. “I left it to my wife, you know, to choose something. I dismissed myself from the issues.” And it was his wife, Candy, he said, who “selected the color and style” of the furniture, “with the caveat that we were both not happy about the price.”
Despite his mea culpa, Mr. Carson took issue with the characterization of the purchase as “extravagant” and press reports that suggested he had authorized $31,000 in taxpayer funding for a single table.
“It’s not a table; it’s 17 pieces of furniture,” said Mr. Carson, who canceled the order when it was revealed in the press last month.
Mr. Scott, the lone African-American Republican in the Senate, said he was sympathetic to Mr. Carson, joking that he had become “a piñata.” But he also expressed publicly what many Republicans have said much more forcefully in private — that Mr. Carson needed to stop blaming others.
The scandal, Mr. Scott said, “has not been helpful, and I appreciate you taking responsibility.”
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Source: New York Times