Under new rules requiring just a majority of senators to agree to proceed to final debate on most confirmation votes, senators voted Tuesday morning 56 to 38 to confirm Patricia A. Millett to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Later, senators confirmed Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) 57 to 41 to serve as the next head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency,which regulates mortgage giants Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and federal home loan banks.
Millett’s confirmation adds a liberal voice to an influential federal court that handles cases involving federal regulations. Perhaps more consequential, however, is Watt’s appointment to head the Housing Finance Agency.
Senate Republicans voted en masse against Watt’s nomination prior to the Senate’s rule change. The North Carolina congressman has been a proponent of increased government intervention in the housing market, including the use of eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages.
[Watt] has been a consistent supporter of the failed government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, despite the role they played in the housing collapse in 2007 and 2008. He has voted for legislation that would give Fannie and Freddie the ability to cover an increasingly large portion of the housing market, which would expose taxpayers and financial markets to greater risk. He has repeatedly voted against legislative efforts that would reduce or end the federal mortgage bailouts.
Watt also played an important role in shaping the 2010 Dodd-Frank regulation act, which created policies that hinder low-income and middle-income individuals’ ability to become homeowners, though that is one of Watt’s purported goals. During his time in Congress, he promoted the “kinds of activities that precipitated and prolonged the housing crisis.”
Two Republicans — Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio — voted with the Democratic caucus to confirm Watt.