Watt says he plans to stay Obama nominee

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 1, 2013

RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina Democrats criticized Republicans who blocked the confirmation path Thursday for U.S. Rep. Mel Watt to a key home mortgage regulatory post — including some politicians who want to succeed him in Congress if he ultimately gets the job.
U.S. Senate Republicans stopped an effort by Democrats to free up Watt’s nomination to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The 56-42 vote fell short of the 60 needed to halt the delay tactics.
Watt, a Charlotte attorney and 12th District congressman since 1993, said later Thursday he didn’t plan to withdraw from the nomination. Tapped for the post six months ago by President Barack Obama, Watt said he’s “hopeful that we will prevail when the motion for reconsideration is taken up in the Senate.”
“Despite this setback, I remain thankful for President Obama’s nomination and humbled by his confidence in me,” Watt said in a statement.
While U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., was one of two GOP senators who voted Thursday to cut off debate and let Watt’s nomination go forward, critics blasted other Republicans for failing to extract the nomination. Powerful conservative groups are opposing Watt’s confirmation, and some Republicans say he lacks political independence and technical expertise for the post, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
“It’s a shame that fringe Republicans and special interests had the day,” state Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller said in a release.
North Carolina Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who also voted to end cloture, says Watt is very qualified for the housing post. “Mel deserves an up or down vote, and I will continue to advocate for his confirmation to this critical post,” she said.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said Watt knows housing finance and has been on the House financial services committee for a long time. He was involved in the Dodd-Frank financial services regulation overhaul law. “There is no doubt” Watt is qualified for the post, Butterfield said.
The uncertainty of Watt’s nomination also leaves hanging further at least four Democrats who have said they’ll run for the 12th District seat held by Watt if he’s no longer in Congress. They include state Reps. Marcus Brandon of High Point and Alma Adams of Greensboro, state Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte and Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board attorney George Battle III.
Battle said Thursday it was “reprehensible” that Republicans wouldn’t allow an up or down vote.
“It’s deplorable that we continue to have a Congress that continues to obstructionist,” Brandon said in an interview.
Should Watt resign to take the housing post, Gov. Pat McCrory would call a special election to fill out his two-year term, held at least 90 days after the vacancy occurs. A primary for that special election would be held depending on the date of the vacancy. The ultimate winner would be the likely front runner to keep the seat in the November 2014 election.
Watt, 68, would have the option to seek re-election in 2014 if his nomination process is delayed or scuttled permanently. He has won by comfortable margins in the general elections for years in the heavily Democratic district, which starts in Charlotte and goes up Interstate 85 to Greensboro, taking in parts of Winston-Salem.