Senate GOP questions Biden’s HUD pick over past insults

Brown and Portman endorse Fudge for Cabinet role

Fudge speakis to reporters outside her office in 2018.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Fudge speakis to reporters outside her office in 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 28, 2021 at 11:55am

President Joe Biden’s pick to run the Housing and Urban Development Department faced a few tough questions from Republicans at her Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday, but Rep. Marcia L. Fudge seems poised for a quick confirmation.

The Ohio Democrat was formally introduced to the committee by both of her state's senators: Sherrod Brown, the Democrat who is set to take over the chairmanship once the Senate reaches a power-sharing agreement, and Rob Portman, a Republican.

Portman, who recently announced he would not run for reelection in 2022, spoke glowingly about Fudge.

“I’m here just to say that I’m proud that you’re choosing to step up. You’re a friend of mine, we’ve worked together,” he said. “You do have a distinguished career and have worked on housing policy throughout your entire public policy career.”

Portman said, approvingly, that Fudge would focus on the affordable housing crisis, which predated the COVID-19 outbreak, and the eviction crisis that the pandemic has exacerbated.

In his opening remarks, Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania criticized Fudge for taking personal potshots at Republicans in the past, “in light of President Biden's repeated calls for unity and pledges to keep ad hominem personal attacks out of political discourse.”

“You slammed Senate Republican efforts to fill the late Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg's seat, and you said, and I quote, ‘Those who are bent on choosing her successor have no decency, they have no honor, they have no integrity,’ and you went on to say, I quote, ‘they are a disgrace to this nation,’” said Toomey, the top Republican on the panel.

“Sometimes I am a little passionate about things. Is my tone pitch perfect all the time? It is not,” Fudge responded. “But I do know this: that I have the ability and the capacity to work with Republicans, and I intend to do just that, and that is my commitment to you.“

Fudge was also pressed by many GOP senators on her questioning of whether Republicans care about people of color. Fudge said she questioned whether some, not all, Republicans do.

Toomey also pushed Fudge to commit to a “robust” public notice and comment period for rule changes. On Tuesday, Biden signed a presidential memorandum directing HUD to look at reimplementing two Obama administration rules that were scrapped by the Trump administration: the affirmatively furthering fair housing rule and the disparate impact standard.

Fudge said she would follow the Administrative Procedures Act, which governs the rulemaking process.

Toomey also said the economic recovery is well underway. The Bureau of Economic Analysis said Thursday the economy grew a real 4.0 percent in the final quarter of 2020, but contracted 3.5 percent for the full year. Broad support was not needed, Toomey said.

“If after all of this historic spending there are people who have fallen through the cracks, people who have not gotten the assistance they need, then by all means, let's have a conversation about those folks who are in those circumstances,” he said. “But I think anything we do now should be narrowly targeted to the people who actually need the help.”

Rouse nomination

The committee also considered Cecelia Rouse, Biden’s nominee to run the Council of Economic Advisors. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to chair the CEA. The Senate previously confirmed her for a seat on the CEA during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Toomey lavished praise on Rouse, a labor economist who now serves as dean of Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs. “She's very well qualified for the post for which she has been nominated,” he said. “I'm particularly pleased and I admire her advocacy for freedom of speech and diversity of points of view.”

Brown had only good things to say about Fudge, who represents his home district. After laying out some of the challenges she’d face at HUD — millions facing evictions, an ongoing lack of affordable housing, millions of homes still contaminated with lead paint — Brown said Fudge was the woman for the job.

“She brings to the job the unique and critical experience of serving as mayor for the kind of community that is either overlooked or outright preyed upon by Wall Street and big investors,” Brown said.

The Senate hasn’t come up with an organizing agreement yet to handle the 50-50 party split that, with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, gives Democrats the slimmest of majorities. Toomey chaired Thursday’s hearing, even though Brown is set to become chairman.