President Obama follows up on his nomination Monday of Foxx as transportation secretary with Watt's nomination today to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The long-time N.C. congressman's name has been pushed by many, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, for a post with the Obama administration. Critics have complained about a lack of diversity at the top levels of the Obama administration. The Foxx and Watt nominations blunt that criticism.
Watt's nomination predictably is getting mixed reviews on Capitol Hill, mostly along party lines. The Washington Post's Plum Line and Post Politics, the Huffington Post, Politico, and Bloomberg News weigh in. The National Journal includes a take on what would happen to Watt's seat, in his odd- shaped district, if the nomination goes through.
Watt is the scheduled speaker at the annual Law Day luncheon here in Charlotte on Thursday. We'll look forward to what he has to say. Watt was the first African American president of the Mecklenburg County Bar Association in 1988-89, and a longtime member of the House Financial Services Committee.
Watt would replace Ed DeMarco, acting head of the agency since 2009.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, of Tennessee, said he "could not be more disappointed in the nomination... This gives new meaning to the adage the fox is guarding the hen house."
On the other hand, consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, a first-term Democratic senator from Massachusetts called Watt "a thoughtful policymaker with deep background in finance and a long record as a champion of working families." She urged his confirmation.
North Carolina's own first-term U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger had this to say: "Congressman Mel Watt is a good man and a dedicated public servant. After decades in Congress, I'm sure he's ready for a new challenge and I wish him all the best in his new role. Mr. Watt's best service would be to responsibly and efficiently reduce the federal government's role in the housing market, freeing taxpayers from expensive bailouts brought about by handing out mortgages with lax credit requirements."
Isaac Boltansky, a policy analyst at Compass Point Research and Trading LLC in Washington, said in a note to clients that Watt would face “a very steep climb to confirmation.”
Some things people might not know or have forgotten about Watt:
- He and Eva Clayton became the first two African Americans elected to Congress from North Carolina in the 20th century when they were elected in 1992.
- Watt practiced law for more than two decades with a focus on business law.
- He served in the state Senate for one term.
- Watt was a mentor and neighbor of Anthony Foxx when he was young. Foxx's grandfather Jim Foxx was a well known political activist who worked with Watt and former Mayor Harvey Gantt.
- Watt and Gantt are long-time friends. Watt was campaign manager for Gantt when he ran for mayor in the 1980s, and when he ran and lost against Jesse Helms for the U.S. Senate in 1990.
- After Watt won his congressional seat, his district became the focus of a long redistricting fight that would end in Watt's favor.