Commentary: It’s Time for the Senate to Confirm Mel Watt

The North Carolina congressman was appointed by President Obama to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency in May.

Posted: 10/30/2013 03:02 PM EDT

For two decades, Mel Watt has been a respected North Carolina member of the United States House of Representatives with significant credentials in the areas of finance and support of small businesses.

He has served as member of the House Committee on Financial Services, including on the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. He has also been a member of the House Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity. He is also a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

In his time in office, Watt championed the Dodd-Frank Act and has been an outspoken voice against predatory lending. He has also been a leading voice for the nation’s small businesses and was a co-sponsor of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 that helped expand opportunities for small enterprises to get capital so vital for their survival.

But for many Republicans, those credentials are insufficient to bring themselves to support Watt, who was nominated by President Obama as the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the government’s 12 Federal Home Loan Banks.

Several Republicans in the Senate have expressed reservations about Watt, saying they have issues with a longtime politician being in the role of a chief regulator.

“I’ve got to believe there’s a whole host of people in our conference that would have concerns about a politician taking on a role of a regulator,” said Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, who opposed Watt’s nomination when it was vetoed by the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Nonetheless, that rationale for opposing an obviously qualified nominee falls into a familiar and unsettling pattern.

There has been a disturbing trend of recent, almost knee-jerk antagonism toward African-American nominees or prospective nominees whose names are promoted by the president. It was clearly visible to all during the irrational and ill-placed opposition to the prospect of Susan Rice serving as secretary of state, although Obama never even placed her name in nomination.

The Watt nomination is slowly becoming a major issue in Washington and even the nation’s civil rights organizations are weighing in on the topic.

Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president and chief executive of the NAACP, called Watt a public official who is “poised to be a strong and fearless voice for struggling homeowners crippled by the recession and a force against predatory lenders who prey on Black and brown communities.” Jealous added, “We are confident he can make change for families who need real change.”

It is unheard of for a sitting member of Congress to be denied approval for a federal position to which he has been nominated by a president. It would be a disgusting moment in history for the Senate to do anything but to take a prompt vote and confirm the nomination of this capable public servant.

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(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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