Two nominees for senior positions at the Department of Housing and Urban Development tested the limits of the commonplace Twitter Inc. disclaimer that “retweets do not equal endorsements” after coming under fire by Senate Banking Committee Republicans for statements about law enforcement on the social media website.
Committee Democrats on Thursday dismissed Republican criticism of retweets made by HUD nominees Solomon J. Greene and Julia R. Gordon about shifting funding away from police. Republicans pressed an issue that has polarized the left and center of the Democratic Party.
“These nominees have strong records in housing policy and management. They will bring their breadth of experience to HUD at a time when our country needs it most,” said Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “That’s what our hearing should focus on today. So I’m disappointed that the ranking member has instead decided to attack these public servants and spread misinformation.”
“Every Democrat in the Senate, and President Biden, all supported the American Rescue Plan, which provided critical funding to local police departments — because of course we support the police,” Brown said, referring to the pandemic relief package enacted in March.
Brown asked Greene and Gordon to clarify whether they had ever personally advocated that the police be defunded. Both said they had not.
“I do not support defunding the police,” Greene said, adding later that in many cases retweets and tweets sharing articles, such as one from May last year that included the phrase “No more money for the police,” featured language that was automatically populated, not his words.
“I regret if that is interpreted as my opinion,” Greene said. “When I tweeted it, at the time, I don’t think it would have been interpreted that way.”
Greene, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, would head HUD’s policy development and research work if confirmed. Greene was a senior adviser to HUD in 2014.
Gordon, who is nominated to run the Federal Housing Administration, likewise denied supporting defunding the police and apologized for stories and other people’s tweets she had reshared on Twitter.
“I have not advocated to defund the police. I support law enforcement. I have family members in law enforcement,” Gordon said. Gordon is the president of the National Community Stabilization Trust. From 2011 to 2012, she led policy on single-family homes at the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., urged his colleagues to drop the issue.
“If these folks are lying, they are perjuring themselves. I would suggest taking appropriate action. Otherwise, take them at their word, because that’s what they said under oath,” Tester said.
Democrats tried to refocus the discussion onto policy questions about affordable housing, homeownership and housing instability caused by the pandemic. However, Republicans steered the hearing back to Twitter.
Ranking member Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., pressed Gordon about a photo and caption she retweeted in May 2020 referring to police as “the ones killing us.”
“That is not my view. I regret retweeting that,” Gordon said.
Toomey said the retweets should disqualify the nominees from senior positions at HUD.
“These views are so outside the political mainstream,” Toomey said. “My objection to these nominees is not because they issued offensive tweets, it’s because of what those tweets, and their own writings in other mediums, tell us about what they believe.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said views on law enforcement were absolutely relevant to housing policy.
“I can’t imagine something more important than safety in the place where you live,” Scott said. “When you have folks talking about defunding the police, you are actually making the housing issue, and the desire for homeownership and for a good, safe place to live, issue number one.”
The committee at the hearing also considered Biden’s nomination of David Uejio, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s acting director, to be assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at HUD.