WASHINGTON — Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., faces a major test this week in his potential confirmation to lead the agency that oversees the quasi-government titans of mortgage finance, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Calling it a top White House priority, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other senior administration officials met with housing and financial industry leaders Monday to ask for their assistance in pressing the Senate to quickly confirm the Charlotte congressman.
“The Senate should move forward to confirm him this week,” said Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman; “the President and his senior team will continue to push hard for Watt until he is confirmed and in place.”
Watt was a controversial pick for the job. It’s been almost six months since his nomination with little progress on confirmation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Monday on Fox News that he plans to hold up all Senate appointments until the administration answers more questions about the Benghazi attack in September 2012.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed a cloture motion Monday to try and force a vote on Watt’s nomination. Watt now faces a procedural test that requires 60 votes to proceed to a final vote.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., pledged his support for Watt after Reid filed for cloture.
“There is no legitimate reason Mel Watt should not be confirmed as the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and I look forward to the Senate vote on his nomination later this week," Johnson said.
Attendees of the White House meeting included Gerald Howard, CEO of the National Association of Home Builders; Frank Keating, president of the American Bankers Association; and Dave Stevens, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association.
In addition to McDonough, the group also met with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, legislative director Miguel Rodriguez and National Economic Council director Gene Sperling.
Officials told the group having Watt in place would help promote certainty for the housing industry.
But many Republicans oppose the nomination of the career politician.
Watt is a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, but he has never worked in banking or finance.
Charlotte Observer staff writer Jim Morrill contributed.