Watt fails to clear key Senate vote
UPDATED 3:45 P.M.
U.S. Rep. Mel Watt’s chance of joining the administration of President Barack Obama took a major step backward Thursday, though the congressman who represents parts of High Point isn’t giving up his effort to lead a federal agency.
Watt’s nomination to direct the Federal Housing Finance Agency didn’t clear an important procedural vote in the Senate. Republicans blocked Watt’s bid to head the federal agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The Senate voted 56-42 for Watt’s nomination. But that was four votes short of the 60 votes needed to close off a variety of Republican approaches that would delay and scuttle the nomination.
Republican critics have argued that Watt, a congressman for 21 years, is too political. Conservative activist groups have tied their opposition to Watt’s nomination to his support for government involvement in the housing industry.
Supporters say that Watt has a track record in Congress of reasonable approaches to oversight of the housing industry. Watt, who’s from Charlotte, represents a congressional district that includes the corporate offices of major financial institutions such as Bank of America.
Watt said that he’s not withdrawing his name from consideration.
“I am obviously very disappointed about the outcome of the Senate vote on cloture,” Watt said. “Despite this setback, I remain thankful for President Obama’s nomination and humbled by his confidence in me. I do not plan to withdraw as the nominee for the position and remain hopeful that we will prevail when the motion for reconsideration is taken up in the Senate.”
Watt, who was nominated by the president nearly six months ago, would have to leave his congressional seat to take the Federal Housing Finance Agency post. A special election would be held to fill the heavily Democratic 12th District seat. About a half a dozen Democrats are actively campaigning, including state Reps. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, of High Point and Alma Adams, D-Guilford, of Greensboro.
Watt previously has said that, if his nomination doesn’t clear the Senate, he would announce in December or January whether he would seek a 12th term next year. Federal Election Commission reports show that Watt isn’t actively raising campaign money now.
Watt wasn’t the only nominee of the president to fall short in the Senate Thursday. Patricia Millett’s bid to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also came up short of 60 votes.
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Senate Republicans have blocked President Barack Obama's nominee to head the federal agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The Senate voted Thursday 56-42 for Congressman Melvin Watt's nomination. But that was 4 short of the 60 votes needed to end GOP delaying tactics.
Watt is a North Carolina Democrat whom Obama picked to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency as the wounded housing industry has begun to recover. Democrats said Watt's 21 years in the House, on the Financial Services Committee, gave him expertise needed for the job.
Republicans say Watt is too political, while conservative groups have attacked his support for government involvement in the housing industry.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the giant government-owned mortgage lenders that own or back half of U.S. mortgages.