Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Democratic Rep. Katie Porter are butting heads again, continuing their feud over – at least on the surface – cookies.
During his testimony before the House Financial Services Committee last month, Carson appeared to think that Porter was questioning him about Oreo cookies when the California Democrat was actually asking about real estate owned properties – or REOs, properties that fail to sell at foreclosure auctions. In an interview clip with ABC News that aired Wednesday, Carson resurfaced the dispute, accusing Porter of pulling a political stunt in her response to his flub.
“It’s silly, you know, when we engage in, ‘ha, gotcha’ stuff, when we have such big policy issues to deal with, and that’s what I want to talk about,” Carson said.
During the May testimony, Porter said to Carson: “I’d also like you to get back to me if you don’t mind to explain the disparity in REO rates. Do you know what an REO is?”
Carson replied, “An Oreo?”
“No, not an Oreo,” Porter said. “An R-E-O. REO.”
Carson responded, “Real estate …” before pausing.
Porter asked, “what’s the O stand for?,” to which Carson answered: “Organization.”
Porter replied, “Owned, real estate owned. That’s what happens when a property goes to foreclosure, we call it an R-E-O.”
On Wednesday, Carson stressed that he knew what the term meant, defending his answer by arguing that “REO” is not a current acronym and that his fellow HUD employees also often struggle to remember the agency’s many acronyms.
“I expect criticism. We don’t talk about REOs anymore, we talk about foreclosed properties. I can honestly say there has not been a single conversation I’ve had since I’ve been here where we talked about REOs,” he said. “Do I know what they are? Of course. Could I remember what the ‘O’ was at that particular moment? No. I couldn’t.”
“But that happens to everybody,” Carson continued. “You know, we use these acronyms all the time. Half the times I say, ‘And that means what?’ They don’t know what it means. But they know what the concept is.”
Porter fired back on Twitter later Wednesday, reiterating her question from the hearing as to why HUD’s Federal Housing Authority loans go to foreclosure more than government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, do.
“I want to talk about big policy issues too, Mr. Secretary. Let’s start by discussing how homes backed by an agency in your department (@FHAgov) are being forced into unnecessary foreclosure proceedings,” Porter tweeted.
She also took aim at Carson’s move to send her a package of Oreo cookies following the hearing, accusing him of being inappropriately light-hearted.
“And next time you send something to my office, start by sending me answers for the American people, not cookies,” she said in a second tweet. “This is not a joke for the families losing their homes.”