After first delaying action on his nomination for months and then rejecting it in October the Senate finally confirmed Mel Watt as the new director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).  The vote, 57 to 41, came late Tuesday and was the second Obama nomination ratified under new Senate rules which effectively ended the Republican's ability to filibuster executive and judicial presidential appointments.

Watt, an 11-term sitting congressman from North Carolina, will replace Edward J. DeMarco who has been acting director of FHFA almost from the beginning of President Obama's first term and someone the administration has long hoped to remove from that position.  An earlier nomination of another North Carolinian, its banking commissioner Joseph Smith, was also blocked by Senate Republicans.

Watt will take charge of the agency, which acts as regulator of the 12 Federal Home Loan Banks and as regulator and conservator of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (the GSEs) at a time when the future of the GSEs is in doubt.  DeMarco has already taken steps that will affect their structure in the future including the establishment of a jointly owned company that will oversee construction of a new secondary market platform, raising fees for the GSEs' government-backed guarantee, and putting in place a risk sharing structure.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said that Watt's confirmation represents an important step in the housing market's recovery.  Watt, he said, has a proven public and private sector track record of "protecting consumers, fighting abuses, championing economic growth, and working across the aisle on important issues that benefit the common good."

E.J. Burke, Chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), issued MBA's formal statement on the confirmation, saying, "MBA looks forward to working with Director Watt on developing and implementing ideas to improve the function of the secondary mortgage market.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in conservatorship for more than five years, and it's well past time to move forward on reform.  As Director of FHFA, Congressman Watt will have a historic opportunity to shape the secondary mortgage market and the government's role in housing.

Another early comment on the confirmation came from Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) who said of his fellow committee member that he has been thoughtful and well-respected during his tenure but that he has big shoes to fill in replacing Demarco.  Hensarling said he challenged Watt to carry on DeMarco's policies. 

At the time of the Senate vote Watt was in South Africa attending the state ceremony for Nelson Mandela.