WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Senate voted Thursday morning to confirm retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson as the next U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary.
Carson is the 17th of 22 of Trump’s Cabinet and Cabinet-level nominations to win Senate approval. The Senate also voted 62-37 to move ahead on the nomination of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to be energy secretary.
Six Democratic Sens. – Joe Manchin, W.Va., Joe Donnelley, Ind., Sherrod Brown, Ohio, Mark Warner, Va., Jon Tester, Mont., and Heidi Heitkamp, N.D. – joined Republicans and Independent Sen. Angus King to back Carson, with a final vote of 58-41.
Carson’s nomination did not draw as much controversy as some of President Trump’s other cabinet picks, though some democrats expressed skepticism about his lack of government experience.
That skepticism was compounded by public statements in November from Carson adviser Armstrong Williams, who told several media outlets, including Reuters and The Hill, that Carson probably was not a good pick for any cabinet post.
Still, Carson faced only several hours of questioning during his confirmation hearing.
The confirmation of the former Republican presidential candidate marks another Washington outsider in the Trump Administration tasked with heading a federal agency. Carson has never held public office and has no housing policy experience. Republicans have praised the life story of a man who grew up in inner-city Detroit with a single mother who had a third-grade education.
When his nomination cleared the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in January, Democrats said Carson would not have been their choice, but they welcomed his promises to enforce fair housing and to address lead hazards in housing and other issues. He was approved unanimously in the committee.
Sarah Edelman, director of housing policy at the Center for American Progress, said her group would work to hold Carson accountable for the promises he made. Carson, she said, has “made disparaging statements about families experiencing poverty, LGBT people, and fair housing that raise questions about his ability to be a fair and effective leader.”
Carson, 65, will lead an agency with some 8,300 employees and a budget of about $47 billion. The department provides billions of dollars in housing assistance to low-income people through vouchers and public housing. It also enforces fair housing laws and offers mortgage insurance to poorer Americans through the Federal Housing Administration, part of HUD.
Trump lauded his nominee last week, calling him a “totally brilliant neurosurgeon” who has saved many lives.
“We’re going to do great things in our African-American communities,” Trump said, appearing with Carson on a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
“Ben is going to work with me very, very closely. And HUD has a meaning far beyond housing. If properly done, it’s a meaning that’s as big as anything there is, and Ben will be able to find that true meaning and the true meaning of HUD as its Secretary,” Trump said.
Carson has not shared specific plans publicly for the department under his leadership. He has said he will begin his tenure with a “listening tour”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.