WASHINGTON — Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a rival-turned-supporter of Donald Trump, overcame his stated qualms about a lack of government experience on Monday to accept the president-elect’s nomination to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Democrats criticized the Republican president-elect’s latest pick for his incoming administration, calling Carson unqualified to take over $48 billion agency that oversees public housing.
Carson, a popular writer and speaker in conservative circles, has been a close adviser to Trump since he dropped out of the 2016 Republican presidential primary contest, and he is a vice chairman of Trump’s transition team.
Trump discussed the job with Carson before Thanksgiving, although — despite his own presidential run — Carson had previously indicated reluctance to take a position in the incoming administration because of his lack of experience in federal government.
Picking up that theme, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said on Monday, “Dr. Ben Carson is a disconcerting and disturbingly unqualified choice to lead a department as complex and consequential as Housing and Urban Development.”
Trump expressed confidence Carson could do the job, saying in a statement that he “has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities.”
Carson, 65, is the first African-American picked for a Cabinet spot by Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20 and has been gradually filling out his administration since beating Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Carson said he was honored to accept the post, which requires confirmation by the Senate. “I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly by strengthening communities that are most in need,” he said in the statement.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been a sometimes strong critic of Trump, praised Carson in a statement, saying, “I’m sure he will be an agent of change in a department that could stand some change.”
Carson, a respected neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, had been considered for U.S. surgeon general and head of Health and Human Services Department.
His business manager, Armstrong Williams, said last month that Carson had decided not to serve in Trump’s administration because “his life has not prepared him to be a Cabinet secretary.” But Carson said after meeting with Trump he believed he could make a contribution.
Like many of the initial field of 17 White House hopefuls who vied for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination, Carson was a frequent target of Trump attacks during the campaign. But he became one of his most high-profile African-American supporters after Trump secured the nomination.
He would take over a department whose mission has been to help middle- and low-income people find housing by offering a combination of public housing, rent subsidies and mortgage assistance.
The agency oversees mortgage lending and is responsible for enforcing laws intended to prevent discrimination against those attempting to rent or buy homes.
Carson has been critical of HUD efforts under the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama to compel local governments to actively seek to end discrimination, instead of just responding to instances of racial discrimination.
In a column he wrote in 2015 for the Washington Times, Carson called the program a “mandated social-engineering scheme.”
If confirmed to the post, he could seek to end the Obama program.
Trump met with former Vice President Al Gore on Monday in what Gore called a “productive” session.
Gore, a Democrat, spent about 90 minutes in meetings at the president-elect’s Trump Tower apartment and office building in Manhattan. In addition to seeing Trump, he also met briefly with the Republican’s daughter Ivanka, who attended a series of high-level meetings since her father won the Nov. 8 election.
Gore, who lost the 2000 presidential campaign to Republican George W. Bush, has for years been devoted to lowering carbon emissions blamed for climate change.
As he campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton earlier this year, Gore warned that Trump would steer the world toward “climate catastrophe” if elected.
That warning came as Trump gave speeches calling on the United States to drop out of last year’s global climate accord, signed in Paris to lower carbon emissions blamed for a warming planet.
Trump also referred to human-induced climate change as a hoax and had tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Since then, however, in an interview with The New York Times, Trump has indicated that he might have an open mind to joining the effort to battle climate change.
Gore had a more upbeat take on Trump after their huddle Monday.
“It was a sincere search for areas of common ground,” Gore said. “I found it an extremely interesting conversation and, to be continued.”
Trump is still considering various candidates to fill the post of U.S. secretary of state.
He was scheduled to meet on Tuesday with Rex Tillerson, the head of Exxon Mobil Corp., who possibly is being considered for the job.