WASHINGTON — Housing secretary nominee Marcia Fudge told senators Thursday that she would take “extraordinary actions” to prevent people from losing their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fudge championed homeownership as a classically American “ticket to the middle class” and endorsed federal financial assistance to expand the ranks of minority homeowners.
But during her appearance before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, the long-serving Ohio congresswoman said her most immediate priority, if confirmed for President Joe Biden's Cabinet, would be protecting the millions of people who have fallen behind on rent or mortgages due to loss of income during the pandemic.
“Extraordinary times require extraordinary actions. And we are in extraordinary times,” said Fudge, speaking remotely from Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. “Whatever it takes, we cannot afford to allow people in the midst of a pandemic to be put in the streets.”
A former mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, Fudge said that job provided a uniquely ground-level view of housing issues and needs. She described the Department of Housing and Urban Development as one that “exists to serve the most vulnerable people in America.”
Fudge's hearing was conducted jointly along with that of Cecilia Rouse, Biden's choice to head the Council of Economic Advisers. Committee members will submit follow-up questions to both nominees by the weekend and receive answers by Monday.
Fudge also endorsed direct federal financial assistance to help prospective minority homeowners with the down payment on a mortgage. She said that simply ending racially biased lending or housing practices wasn’t enough. There needs to be direct assistance to make up the wealth gap created by generations of redlining and other systemic racial inequities, she said.
“It’s like being in a race with someone who had a head start,” she said. “The biggest impediment to homeownership for communities of color is the down payment.”
The hearing progressed in a largely collegial tone, with some of the most pointed criticism from Republicans focusing not on Fudge's policies but on the harsh things she has said about Republicans.
Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said several of Fudge's public statements “raise questions about your willingness and ability to work with Republicans.”
In particular, Toomey referenced a statement Fudge made last year when GOP senators rushed to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg before the presidential election. Many of those same Republicans had blocked President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland in 2016 specifically because it was just before a presidential election. Fudge at the time called Senate Republicans “a disgrace to this nation” and said they ”have no decency, they have no honor, they have no integrity.”
Fudge did not walk back any of her previous statements but described herself as “one of the most bipartisan members in the House of Representatives.”
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., challenged Fudge, a former leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, on repeated statements she made that Republicans don't care about Black Americans or people of color. When Kennedy asked her directly whether she believed Republicans cared about Black Americans, Fudge tersely answered, “I do, some, yes.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, defended Fudge. After repeated mentions of Fudge's criticisms of Republicans, Brown said, “It’s pretty tough to take a political speech from members of a party whose leader just three weeks ago literally incited a violent insurrection with his words.”