WASHINGTON — They say you have to send a letter to get a letter, but at a congressional hearing Wednesday, it became evident that U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty is not getting letters from Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.
Instead, she complained that for the second time in a year, she has written to Carson questioning a policy being implemented at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, only for it to be ignored for months, with only a Carson aide eventually responding to her.
This, she said, is a disrespectful act to a member of Congress with oversight over Carson’s agency. During a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, Beatty, a Jefferson Township Democrat, lambasted Carson for not answering her questions.
At issue was a letter she had written in March asking Carson to clarify reports that he planned to change the department’s mission statement to remove anti-discrimination language. Beatty, joined by several other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote that they would “strongly” oppose such a change. They also asked for a copy of the memo proposing the change.
In May, the group got a response from the assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental relations saying the reports were “simply false” and the department is looking at its mission statement and considering “modest changes.” The letter said that HUD’s mission statement would continue to “capture the essence of our historic role in fighting housing discrimination and promoting fair and inclusive housing.”
But Beatty said she wanted assurances from Carson, not an aide.
On Wednesday, she asked Carson whether he had seen her letter. “Are you familiar with that letter we sent you about anti-discrimination?” she asked.
“I have gotten so many letters,” he replied, confessing that he wasn’t familiar with it.
This irked Beatty, who in October 2017 blasted Carson for not responding to a letter that she and 20 other Democratic members of Congress had sent urging him to lower the Federal Housing Administration’s annual mortgage insurance premium rates by a quarter percentage point.
Beatty sent that first letter in July 2017. In October, when Carson appeared before the House Financial Services Committee, he had responded only through an aide and did not appear to have read the letter.
“Did you receive the letter and read it?” she asked him.
“I don’t know what was in the letter, so I can’t tell you whether I received it,” he replied.
She explained the letter, then asked, “Did you respond to it, and I didn’t get it?”
“I personally did not,” he said. “Did my staff respond to you? I don’t know.”
On Wednesday, she said that although an aide responded to her letter to Carson, she wanted confirmation from the secretary that the mission statement would include a nod to diversity. After she pressed him, he said the mission statement is still being drafted.
Later in the hearing, another Democrat, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, said he also had sent several letters to Carson and had not received a reply.
But again, Beatty was irritated that Carson hadn’t answered the question when she’d first written to ask.
“This was sent personally to you,” she said, adding that if he were to send her a letter, she would have had the courtesy to read it.
And “if I knew I were coming back here after being drilled by a member who has oversight of your department, I would probably make a little special effort,” she said.
This article was originally published by the Columbus Dispatch on June 27, 2018
Dispatch Reporter Jessica Wehrman contributed to this story.