WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump, moving to complete the formation of his Cabinet and decide other key posts, chose former campaign rival Ben Carson Monday to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Trump’s decision, announced by his transition office, comes as the real estate mogul continues a series of interviews, meetings with aides and other deliberations aimed at forming his administration. He announced several Cabinet appointees last week.
In a statement, Trump said he was “thrilled to nominate” Carson, describing the retired neurosurgeon as having “a brilliant mind,” and saying he “is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities.”
Carson had been coy about joining the new administration, saying shortly after Trump’s election victory that he wasn’t certain he’d fit into a Cabinet-style role. The discussion at that time centered on speculation that Carson might be selected to head the sprawling Department of Health and Human Services.
“Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country,” Trump said, “and is part of ensuring that this is a presidency representing all Americans.”
Carson would oversee a budget of nearly $50 billion that provides rental assistance for more than 5 million households. Demand for that assistance is high, with housing costs rising faster than incomes.
HUD also promotes homeownership with the Federal Housing Administration, underwriting about 1 in 6 mortgages issued in the United States. The agency is also charged with enforcing federal fair housing laws.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Carson had no credentials for the job and was a “disconcerting and disturbingly unqualified choice.” She said the country deserves someone with “relevant experience to protect the rights of homeowners and renters.”
Carson was among the 16 Republican candidates who challenged Trump for the Republican nomination. During the primary, Trump treated Carson harshly, saying he had a “pathological temper.”
Still, Carson quickly endorsed Trump after he dropped out of the contest.
Last week, Trump announced that he planned to nominate former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin as his Treasury secretary and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross to lead the Commerce Department.
He chose Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education and Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, to be transportation secretary. Trump has turned to retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to be secretary of defense.
For secretary of state, Trump has now expanded his pool of candidates, raising a question as to whether former CIA Director David Petraeus’ guilty plea for leaking classified information disqualifies him to serve as the nation’s top diplomat. Trump’s aides had confirmed that the president-elect had settled on four finalists for the post.
But over the weekend, two people close to the transition told The Associated Press that Trump is moving away from two of the four: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
That would leave Petraeus as a top contender, along with Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Carson has often recounted his childhood as the son of a single mother in inner-city Detroit in his books and motivational speeches. In his 1996 autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” Carson wrote of the humiliation he felt using food stamps from his mom to pay for bread and milk.
He has not said whether his family ever lived in federally funded housing or received Section 8 subsidies to help pay rent. But as a political figure he has criticized such public assistance programs for creating “dependency” on the government among low-income minorities.
With the help of financial aid and scholarships, Carson attended Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School before being the first African-American named as the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.
There, he garnered national acclaim for directing the first surgery to separate twins connected at the back of the head.
Also Monday, CNN reported that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, are planning to move to Washington, D.C.
They are house-hunting, CNN reports, a move that underscores Kushner’s importance in the Trump White House, where he is expected to take a senior leadership role.