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Obama picks Rep. Watt to oversee Fannie, Freddie

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President Obama nominated veteran House member Melvin L. Watt Wednesday to head the agency that oversees lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and picked one of his top campaign fundraisers to lead the Federal Communications Commission.

Mr. Watt, North Carolina Democrat, is a 20-year House lawmaker who took campaign donations from the agencies he’d be overseeing. Fannie and Freddie together own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages.

“Mel understands as well as anybody what caused the housing crisis,” Mr. Obama said as he introduced both nominees at the White House. “He knows what it’s going to take to help responsible homeowners fully recover, and he’s committed to helping folks just like his mom, Americans who work really hard, play by the rules day in and day out to provide for their families.”

Some Senate Republicans expressed skepticism about Mr. Watt heading the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

“I could not be more disappointed,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican. “This gives new meaning to the adage that the fox is guarding the henhouse,” Mr. Corker said. “The debate around his nomination will illuminate for all Americans why Fannie and Freddie failed so miserably.”

Mr. Watt, 67, is a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a longtime member of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, praised the nomination.

“Congressman Watt has deep expertise in housing policy and a record of distinguished service on the House Financial Services Committee,” Mr. Cummings said. “He will be an excellent director for FHFA.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Watt, would replace Edward DeMarco, an appointee of President George W. Bush who has been a target of housing advocates and Democratic lawmakers.

The federal government rescued Fannie and Freddie at the height of the financial crisis in September 2008 as they neared collapse from losses on bad loans.

Taxpayers have spent about $170 billion to bail out the companies, which have repaid a combined $55.2 billion.

The president selected venture capitalist Tom Wheeler, former head of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association and the National Cable Television Association, to lead the FCC. He would replace outgoing chairman Julius Genachowski, who announced in March that he would be stepping down.

Mr. Wheeler raised more than $500,000 for Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign. He also contributed more than $17,000 combined to Mr. Obama’s re-election, and to several Senate campaigns, including that of Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat.

The president designated FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to serve as acting chairwoman while Mr. Wheeler awaits Senate confirmation.

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About the Author
Dave Boyer

Dave Boyer

Dave Boyer is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. A native of Allentown, Pa., Boyer worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2002 to 2011 and also has covered Congress for the Times. He is a graduate of Penn State University. Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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