By Tara Law
May 21, 2019

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson didn’t seem to know what a congresswoman was talking about when she asked a question related to foreclosures during a congressional hearing on Tuesday. Instead, Carson apparently thought she was talking about Oreo cookies.

Speaking at a House Financial Services Committee meeting on housing on Tuesday morning, Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat from California, asked Carson why more homes that are financed with loans through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) end up being foreclosed on than properties purchased with other types of loans.

If a homeowner cannot pay their mortgage, a lender may seize the property and try to sell it in a foreclosure auction. When the property doesn’t sell at auction, it becomes Real Estate Owned (REO.)

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, former Republican presidential candidate and conservative who famously called poverty a “state of mind,” didn’t seem to know the term.

“Do you know what an REO is?” Porter asked Carson.

“An Oreo?” Carson said.

“No, not an Oreo. REO. REO.”

“Real estate?” Carson said.

“What’s the “O” stand for?” Porter said.

“The organization…”

“Owned. Real Estate Owned,” Porter said.

She explained that REO relates to properties that go into foreclosure, instead of going to loss mitigation or other alternatives that are less likely to result in owners losing their houses.

“So we’d like to know why we have more foreclosures that end in people losing their homes with stains to their credit and disruptions to their communities, and their neighborhoods at the FHA,” Porter said.

Carson’s gaffe triggered an avalanche of tweets that weren’t particularly flattering to the HUD secretary.

Carson himself tried to get in on the joke on Twitter, tweeting photos of himself sending a pack of Double Stuf Oreos to Porter’s office.

“OH, REO! Thanks, [Rep. Porter]. Enjoying a few post-hearing snacks. Sending some your way!” Carson tweeted.

Some noted that while Carson’s mistake was funny, the reality is more serious.

“It would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic that people are losing their homes with FHA loans,” wrote one Twitter user.

Write to Tara Law at tara.law@time.com.

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