Housing Secretary Ben Carson confuses real estate term "REO" with "Oreo"

By Emily Tillett

/ CBS News

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson was quizzed at a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, resulting in yet another viral moment for the cabinet official. Appearing before the House Financial Services Committee for an oversight hearing, Democratic Rep. Katie Porter asked Carson to help define what "REOs" are.

For those not in well-versed in housing terminology, "REO" stands for "real estate owned" — a term used to describe foreclosed property that has been transferred back to a bank or lender after an unsuccessful auction. Banks will typically sell REO properties as-is, meaning the buyer buys the home and all the problems along with it.

Carson, however, appeared to have misheard Porter, thinking she was referring to the delicious chocolate sandwich cookie.

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"An Oreo?" Carson responded.

"No, not an Oreo, an R-E-O," Porter spelled out.

I asked @SecretaryCarson about REOs – a basic term related to foreclosure – at a hearing today. He thought I was referring to a chocolate sandwich cookie. No, really. pic.twitter.com/cYekJAkRag

— Rep. Katie Porter (@RepKatiePorter) May 21, 2019

What followed was an awkward back and forth with the congresswoman as Carson appeared to not know what REO stands for, responding: "Real estate?"

"What does the O stand for?" Porter probed.

"Organization?" Carson suggested. Porter retorted: "Owned. 'Real estate owned.' That's what happens when a property goes into foreclosure. We call it an REO."

Porter explained that loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) go into foreclosure and become REOs at a higher rate than loans issued by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, meaning homeowners with FHA loans are more likely to lose their homes to foreclosure. She pressed Carson to explain why people with FHA loans are losing their homes with "stains to their credit."

Carson poked fun at his slip-up after the hearing, tweeting a photo of a pack of Oreos and a handwritten note to Porter.

OH, REO! Thanks, @RepKatiePorter. Enjoying a few post-hearing snacks. Sending some your way! pic.twitter.com/q4MMTBWVUI

— Ben Carson (@SecretaryCarson) May 21, 2019

First published on May 21, 2019 / 3:09 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Emily Tillett

Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital

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