* Senate plans vote this week to clear procedural hurdles
* Obama nominated Watt in May to regulate Fannie, Freddie
By Margaret Chadbourn
WASHINGTON, Oct 28 The White House on Monday
ramped up efforts to win confirmation for President Barack
Obama's pick to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
, and the Senate scheduled a vote to try to break
through Republican opposition.
Obama nominated Representative Mel Watt to replace Edward
DeMarco as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency on May 1,
but the nomination has stalled due to stiff Republican
On Monday, White House officials met with housing and
financial industry representatives to enlist their support in an
effort to move Watt's nomination through the Senate.
"The administration officials made clear that the Watt
confirmation is a top White House priority, that the Senate
should move forward to confirm him this week," said White House
spokeswoman Amy Brundage.
"The president and his senior team will continue to push
hard for Watt until he is confirmed and in place," she said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put a vote on the Senate's
agenda that could clear procedural hurdles to Watt's
confirmation, but the timing of any vote - and the prospect of
its success - remained unclear.
Watt, a North Carolina Democrat, can expect strong backing
from Democrats, who will control 55 votes once Senator-elect
Cory Booker of New Jersey takes office on Thursday. But he would
need to gain 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to overcome
Republican hurdles and move to a final up-or-down vote.
Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina is the
sole Republican to have endorsed Watt publicly. Many Republicans
contend that he lacks the technical expertise on housing finance
to oversee the nation's two largest mortgage finance firms.
The goal of the White House meeting with six housing and
financial services groups was to bring them on board to pressure
Senate Republicans into allowing the chamber to move directly to
a final vote.
Participants included the heads of the National Multi
Housing Council, the National Association of Home Builders, the
American Bankers Association, Mortgage Bankers Association and
the National Association of Realtors, as well as a top official
from the Financial Services Roundtable.
A number of senior administration officials took part,
including National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and
presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.
"They wanted to make clear to the group that they are
sticking with Mel and they are not backing off their pick for
FHFA," MBA chief David Stevens said following the meeting.
The Senate Banking Committee backed Watt's nomination on a
party-line vote in July, but Democrats have not been able to
drum up enough Republican support to bring it to the floor for a
At the meeting, senior administration officials also
reiterated the White House's hopes for reform of the housing
finance system. They endorsed bipartisan work under way in the
Senate to draft legislation to overhaul the current system and
reduce taxpayer support of the mortgage market.