Watt represents the Charlotte area, home base of behemoth Bank of America Corp. He becomes yet another high-profile African-American and the second North Carolinian nominated by Obama in three days to a top government post. On Monday, Obama nominated Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte, to head the Transportation Department.
Watt, who has a consistently liberal voting record, is expected to face Republican opposition to his confirmation. The White House was already lining up supporters who might hold some sway with GOP senators.
Erskine Bowles, a fellow North Carolinian and former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, praised Watts as a first-rate selection. Both men were classmates at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bowles, the Democrat in a debt-tackling partnership with former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, said Watts brings “a bright mind, great work habits and an understanding of how Washington works to the job.”
Hugh McColl, former Bank of America chairman and CEO, also welcomed Watt’s nomination. McColl says he has known Watt for four decades, first meeting him through his brother-in-law, former Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., who attended Yale Law School at the same time as Watt.
“What he brings to everything, doesn’t matter the subject, is an open mind,” McColl said. “He has clarity of thought.”
Charlotte is a major banking center, and the top donors to Watt’s political campaigns over the years have been bank political action committees and bank officials and employees.
His nomination comes nearly a year after DeMarco, who has been acting director, stood by a decision to bar Fannie and Freddie from reducing principal for borrowers at risk of foreclosure, resisting pressure from the administration. DeMarco long has opposed allowing the mortgage giants to offer principal reduction.
In March, attorneys general from nine states, led by Democrats Eric Schneiderman of New York and Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, sent Obama a letter saying that under DeMarco, Fannie and Freddie have been a “direct impediment to our economic recovery.”